Monday, May 27, 2013

Foster Mrs. Miniver becomes Mrs. Miniver-Bryant

When I had my interview at the shelter, we sat in the cat room and talked.  Several of the cats came over and checked me out.  One in particular jumped up on my lap and stayed there.  When I showed up for my second interview, she was again waiting for me. When I sat down, she jumped up on my lap again and settled in.  This kitty became my favorite.  Her name was Mrs. Miniver and I always made sure I had time to say hello to her, no matter what else I was doing at the shelter.

Mrs. Miniver is very old.  She is about 15, her owner passed away last summer.  She and her brother came to the shelter and there they wait.  Miniver had some dental work done when she first arrived at the shelter and there were complications.  She never fully recovered from that.  Her throat was damaged (she purrs like a freight train now and has trouble breathing) and her mouth wasn't ever quite right either.

I always told the volunteers in the cat building that Miniver could come home with me when she reached the end of her days.  Early in November, she took a turn for the worst.  Mrs Miniver stopped eating and started to hide.  Not a good sign.  I brought her home with me and figured she didn't have much time left.

She settled right into our family.  Our girl cats Daisy and Baby stay in our bedroom and Mrs Miniver liked that just fine.

A couple weeks passed. Miniver would sleep right next to me every night and purr right into my face.  I noticed that her breath was really bad.  She didn't want to eat and was getting very thin  I was worried the end was near and so I made an appointment with the vet.

When we saw the vet, he gave her a full exam.  When he opened her mouth to check it out, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Her teeth and mouth were a total disaster.  I cried because it was so bad.  How could we not have noticed this?  The vets recommendation was to do surgery and pull all her teeth, cleaning out her gums and giving it a chance to heal.  He said she would either not survive the surgery or she would come out of it a different cat.

The surgery was going to cost $600-$1000.  I was very upset.  How can you justify that kind of money on a 15 year old cat.  The vet said that the original surgery performed last year was not complete and she has just been festering ever since.  I felt like we owed it to Mrs Miniver to finish the job right and at least give her a chance.   I called my director and told her the news.  She asked what I thought we should do. I told her that if the shelter couldn't or wouldn't pay, that I would find a way to pay for it.  That's all she needed to hear.  If I felt that strongly, then we'd do it.

In the meantime, Miniver had an upper respiratory infection.  We treated her with some injectible medication and a nebulizer.  She hated that damn thing, but it sure made a difference.  Once she was healthy, we scheduled the surgery.

Miniver came through with flying colors.  They pulled all her teeth but one and cleaned out all her infection. After a recovery period, she started eating again and gained some weight.  She stopped hiding and was much happier.  At her 6 week check up, she was cleared for adoption.  Now the question was - who would take a 15 year old cat with one tooth!

That was back in March.  Time passed and no one inquired about her.  She wasn't up to going to adoption events and seemed perfectly happy here with us.  A few weeks ago, Trevor and I were talking about it - she isn't any trouble, she fits right in with our other kitties and she loves us.  And of course, we love her.  I was laying on the bed with her, she kept rubbing her face on mine.  She looked at me as if to say "I belong here...and we both know it".  I filled out the paperwork and submitted the check.  Mrs. Miniver, Mini as I call her, is now officially a Bryant.  Trevor and I have a soft spot for the older animals.  The three that we originally had when we met 13 years ago all grew old  with us.  They taught us compassion and trained us to be able to provide the same to these shelter animals that have now entered our lives.

So, in honor of Wookie (read about him HERE), Opal (read about her HERE) and Gus (read about him HERE), we welcome Mrs Miniver to our family.  She will always be one of us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Foster Ducky

Looking back, I couldn't even remember how Ducky came to be with us.   So I checked on my text message history and now its all coming back to me!

Back in April, the director at my shelter was over at the other shelter in town, talking to them about what dogs we could bring to our shelter.  We take animals from them whenever we have the room and the resources.

Tamara (the director), sent me a text message.  It was this picture.  She asked if I thought Amanda (a friend of mine who owns another local rescue) could help.
This old guy had come into their shelter as a stray, his owners never came to claim him.  He was about 15 years old and blind in one eye.  I didn't think Amanda could help him, she specializes in special need rescue and this old guy was really just at the end of his days.  He needed a quiet place where he could rest until it was his time to move on to the next world.

I texted the picture to Trevor.  Within a day, I was on the phone with the shelter.  They had mentioned to Tamara that they wished they had more hospice fosters.  We could do that.  I knew this guy probably wouldn't be adoptable, but he didn't need to die in the shelter.

The following day, I went to meet him.  Its always funny that they ask me to come meet the dogs or cats we offer to take. There really isn't anything that could happen that would make us not take them once we met them. This guy was no different.   Pretty soon I was on my way home with an old, blind, confused dog in my car.

His tail looked like a platapus, so we named him Ducky.  The shelter signed him over to us.  They weren't going to list him for adoption and so it just made more sense to make him ours.

Ducky came home with us and was immediately part of the family.  He was very confused about where he was and why.  He is just an old guy, trying to figure out where the heck his family is. I honestly didn't expect him to make it more than a week.

After he was home with us, I did what I do with all our pets in distress....I took him to see Dr Hope Valentine, our chinese medicine vet.  She did some acupuncture on him and told me that she honestly didn't think he had much time.
Here we are, a month later, and Ducky (we call him Poppy) is still alive and kicking.  He seems to have realized that this is home.  He is so old.  He hobbles around, sometimes he falls over.  He is very stiff.  Except when its time to eat. This guy will run and jump and spin around when the food comes out.  He knows which door leads outside and will sit there when he wants out.  He knows that door leads back in too and will sit at the door and scratch at it when he wants in.

All Poppy wants to do is snuggle, relax and sleep.  He does a lot of pacing. That is getting less as time passes. I used to hear him pacing around and then it would be quiet, I would find him sitting down, just staring off into the distance, contemplating life.

At night, he snuggles on the couch with me for a bit and then goes into his kennel and sleeps.  He is such an odd little guy and of course we love him with all our hearts.

We have no idea what his past has been. I don't understand how your 15 year old dog goes missing and you don't look for him.  But I can't speak to any of his circumstances. If he didn't have a good life, we'll make up for that now.  If he had a good life and a family that loved him (and didn't come looking for him for some reason), then we'll keep him safe and be with him in the end.  That is what I would want for any of our animals if we couldn't be with them at the end,.

I don't know how much time he has. I make time every day to pick him up and hold him close.  He seems to really enjoy that. He is stiff at first and then he relaxes into my arms and rests his head on my shoulder.  Its then when I know that he is grateful for the kindness of strangers.  Strangers who are now his family.
Thousands of animals die in shelters every day.  Some are young, some are old.  They all deserve a different fate, but most don't get it.  I wish we could do this for every single one of them...but we can' we do it for Poppy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Foster Shilo finds forever

Shilo came to live with us in December of last year.  He was living at a rescue in California that was losing its permits and needed to get rid of the 70 dogs they had.  If not, those dogs would end up back in the high kill local shelter and that would mean certain death.  Most of the dogs at this rescue were high risk, meaning they had been on euthanizia lists before they were taken by this particular rescue.

Our friend, Amanda, who runs the rescue Panda Paws, was helping out by taking some dogs from this place.  Trevor and I decided we wanted to help too.  Tamara, the Executive Director at the shelter where I worked said we could take 4 dogs.  Trevor and I would foster two and the others would go to the shelter until we found them foster homes.

We spent hours going through the pictures and descriptions of the dogs.  After many changes, we finally settled on Lucey and Shilo.  They both had their issues and Amanda warned us that these could be long term fosters.  We were prepared for that and anxious for their arrival.

Lucey and Shilo, along with the other two dogs we took in at the shelter, were part of a big rescue operation called Home for the Holidays.  Every year, an organization called Wings of Rescue, helps transport hundreds of animals from high kill situations in places like California to the northwest.   There were over 400 dogs coming up to Portland and other northwest cities.

HERE  is my blog about that.

On December 7th, we headed to the Hillsboro Airport and waited for their arrival.  We had gotten an email from the people at the rescue where the dogs were coming from that said Shilo wasn’t very happy that morning and to be careful because he was angry when they put him in his kennel.   We greeted our new arrivals, let them walk around a bit and enjoy the fanfare.  Then we hit the road for home.

Lucey laid down in the back of the car and went to sleep.  Shilo sat as far back as he could and never relaxed.  When we got to the house, Lucey and Shilo both kept their distance. They laid together in the kitchen.  Shilo took quite a while to ever lay down. I remember we made such a big deal out of it when he was actually not sitting up anymore.

Over the next few days we realized that Shilo didn’t understand being petted.  He didn’t want to be touched.  He would run away anytime we got close.  But every time I turned around, there he was.  Looking at me like he wanted to know what this touching was all about.

I sat at the table, doing work and he would come over towards me.  I put my hand down and just sat there.  Shilo wouldn’t look at me.  He would put his head down and side step towards my hand.  I would touch him for a moment and then stop.  Shilo would then move closer to me, still not looking at me, still with his head down.  This went on for a couple weeks, until he finally let us pet him.  And then he realized that he liked it.  He wanted to be touched.  But he still didn’t understand it.

We told him to keep his head up, that he should be proud and never needed to come to us hanging his head.  He needed confidence.  We knew that his past must have been bad.  He had been found in an abandonded house, tied up in the yard with no food or water.  Who knows what had happened to him before that, but by his behavior, it must have been bad.  

Lucey was adopted pretty quickly and I often wonder if Shilo was confused about that.  She was with him at the rescue in California, where the dogs had free roam of many acres.  We wonder if they were friends there.  Then they made the trip from California together, they came to our house and went in their kennels side by side.  Then, one day, we went to the shelter and some people came and took her away.  Then it was just him.

Over time, Shilo became more affectionate.  He would jump up on the couch and lay with us.  He didn’t mind the other dogs, but he certainly wasn’t part of the pack.  Again, he seemed confused by the way that they played.

HERE is another blog post about Shilo and his progress.

The biggest issue of all was his biting.  Shilo did not like to be told what to do.  And he expressed that with fear, a snarl and then a bite.  It typically happened when he was on the couch and we wanted him to get down.  He didn’t mind it as much when I did it, but he really minded when Trevor did it.  I remember once he bit me, it was my fault, I knew it was coming and I didn’t stop what I  was doing fast enough.  He was sorry the second he did it.  It made me so scared and sad for him.  It made me worry about his future.  How would he ever get adopted if he wouldn’t let people get near him.  Who would ever take him?

Months went by.  Other fosters came and went and Shilo remained.  He only had one person even inquire about him.  She came to the shelter and met him.  She really liked him, but didn’t think she was prepared to deal with his issues and special needs.   She asked what I thought and I told her that Shilo needed someone who would be an advocate for him, who would protect him and make sure he wasn’t put into any situation that could end up poorly for him.  If she wasn’t confident she could do that, if she had any doubts about doing that, then he wasn’t the right fit for her.  She agreed and said she was sorry.

Over time, Shilo got more comfortable with me.  Trevor went away for work a lot during the month of February, after that, Shilo was really angry with him.  He wouldn’t let Trevor put him in his kennel and he would snarl at Trevor way too often.  During that time, he became more attached to me.  He started to play with the other dogs a bit more.  He would forget himself and chase after them through the yard. You would see him let go and then realize that he needed to hold back.  Then he would run inside and jump up onto his spot on the couch where he felt safe.

A few weeks ago, we got a hospice foster named Ducky.  Ducky is old – 15, blind in one eye, going blind in the other.  He hobbles around and minds his own business.  He doesn’t see things coming.  Shilo was laying on a pillow in the office and Ducky walked too close to him. Shilo snapped and actually made Ducky bleed.  This is the first time I have ever raised my voice at Shilo. I was angry and I made him go out of the office.

While I attended to Ducky, he was fine – mostly just startled, Shilo stood in the other room, looking at me.  I told him that I was angry and that he couldn’t do that to Ducky.  After about 15 minutes of being mad at him, I was in the laundry room.  I looked out and there was Shilo, standing in the hallway.  The look in his eyes broke my heart.  It was a look that said “please don’t be mad at me….you are all I’ve got”.  I stopped what I was doing, sat on the floor and called him.  Shilo put his head down and slowly walked toward me.  I cried.  I cried for what he had been through and for his uncertain future.  I cried because I didn’t know where his story would go from here.  I cried because he was broken and he may never be able to be put back together.  He needed patience and space and compassion.  Often I feel like that is in short supply.  

I told him to lift his head.  I told him that I loved him and I always would and even though I was mad about what he did, that wasn’t changing. I sat on the floor with him for a long time, petting him, hugging him, kissing him.   That night, he snuggled closer on the couch and I made sure to give him extra love over the next couple days.  I needed him to know that it was going to be okay.

The following weekend, I got a text from Clint at the shelter. Someone had called about Shilo.  I called the man back, not having much hope.  I asked him some questions and told him all about Shilo.  The thing about a dog like Shilo….you have to tell people the worst case scenario.  There is no sugar coating it.  If you make him sound great and then he bites them or their kids or their friends, he can end up dead.  It literally is a life and death situation.  So, I told them.  I said that if they were still interested we could set up a time to meet, but that they wouldn’t be able to touch him.  I laid it all on the line.  The man said he would discuss it with his wife and call me back.

I hung up and looked at Trevor. I said “I know I made him sound awful, but I have to” and he said “I know”.  10 minutes later, the man called back and they still wanted to meet Shilo.  What?  I was shocked.  I was headed out of town, Trevor was willing to facilitate the meeting on his own.  We set it up for Saturday at the park.  Shilo had been to the park twice to meet Joanna and have his picture taken. He was comfortable and happy there.  He has met people there and nothing bad has happened.  I figured that would be safe.

Saturday came and I was out of town.  I was busy working, but thought all day about how that meeting would go.  Trevor sent me a text and told me that the people wanted to adopt him.  I was in complete disbelief.  He said that the wife walked Shilo and that he ever wanted her to pet him.  She sat down and Shilo came over to her, nosed at her hand and let her pet him.  Then, he ran back over to Trevor as if to say “Look Dad, I was a good boy”.  When I read that, I lost it….our little guy did good.  Maybe his time really was here.

They wanted to take him with them on Saturday, but there was paperwork to be done and I would have to do it when I got back.  They were excited about Shilo and talked about a dog they had previously who took two years to warm up to the husband. They talked about how Shilo would be an only dog and never have to be kenneled.  It all sounded perfect.

Trevor told the people that Shilo could always come back to us.  He made them agree that if there was ever any issue, if they ever needed to get rid of him, he had to come back to us – no matter when it was or where we lived.  He would always be ours if he couldn’t be theirs. 
Shilo wanted to know if it was really true that he could have a forever family of his own, like Lucey.  And we told him yes.  It could be.

I got home on a Monday and arranged to meet Shilo’s new mom on Tuesday afternoon at the park.  2:30 was the time.  I didn’t have much time left with my guy.  I always have a heart to heart talk with our fosters before taking them to their forever home.  The conversation is usually the same and I know they understand me.   Shilo and I sat on the floor in the laundry room and I told him that I didn’t know what his future would hold, but I would love him forever.   Any time, any day, if he thought of me, I would still be loving him.  And when he takes his last breath, no matter when or why that is, I will still love him.  Then I told him this “don’t ever let anyone break your soul.  Hold your head high and be proud”.    He licked my face and wagged his tail.  

You see,  when you have a foster animal, you love them as if they were yours.  They are a part of the family, even though we know its not forever.  When they arrive, you don’t know how long they are staying.  It could be a few days, it could be years and that is what we commit to, the uncertainty.  Trevor and I take on the difficult cases. The animals that come to us as fosters all have some issue that needs to be worked through.  We give them the time and space to do that.  When they leave us and go to their forever home, it is deeply rewarding and emotional.  We are sending on of our own into the unknown, hoping for the best, hoping we have done what’s right.  Shilo is the extreme example of this.  He has been our foster for 6 months.  He has had the most issues of any animal we’ve fostered and we were prepared for him to be with us forever.  So the idea that he has found this seemingly perfect home, well…that’s overwhelming.

Shilo’s forever mom was waiting for us at the park. She was early.  She had a new leash and collar for her new little guy.  I put the collar on him, while he stood on my lap and licked my face.  He was giving me his final kisses goodbye.  He walked right over to the car and jumped in to head to his new home.  We drove away behind them and I could see him in the backseat, tongue wagging, looking around as if to say “where are we going? I can’t wait to get there”.

Later that evening, we got some pictures from his new family and they said it was going well.

The next day, I checked with them to see how things were.  Shilo’s mom said that he had been her shadow all day, he had been on two walks and played in the yard.  Sweet Shilo.  He will be an only dog.  He has two cat siblings that he doesn’t mind at all.  His new family likes to camp and they asked us if we thought Shilo would like to go camping.  I think Shilo will like to go anywhere his people go.  And I think these are his people.

Today has been a week since Shilo went to his new home.  He went there as a foster and the agreement was that we would finalize the adoption when they were ready.  Today I got a text message with a picture and they said “We love Shilo and want to finalize the adoption” .  Those are words I wasn’t sure I would ever hear.  

He looks so happy.  That makes me so happy.

 It took a team of people to get this guy to his forever home: whomever got him out of the high kill shelter in California, the rescue groups that organized his flight to us, Tamara, the Executive Director at WCGHS who let Trevor and I chose Shilo, and then worked with Shilo to socialize him, Leah, a volunteer adoption coordinator at WCGHS, who never gave up hope for finding Shilo a home, Joanna, who took the most amazing photos of Shilo and Caroline for getting Shilo into the newspaper as pet of the week.  Shilo’s family saw the picture in the paper and fell in love.  Then there is Rachael, who wrote Shilo’s amazing adoption bio – that made the people fall more in love with him.   To Michelle and Kathy and Clint who were excited to hear the news about Shilo’s possible forever home.  The list goes on and on. I am sure I forgot someone.  But it doesn’t matter…we are ALL a part of this success.  We can’t save them all, but we have saved this one.  We are all a part of his life and he is alive because of us.  There is no greater feeling than that.  I am honored to have played a part, to have served as Shilo’s in between….from who he was to who he will be.  I’ll never forget him.

You want this feeling….call your local shelter or rescue and ask about being a foster home for a pet in need.  You will never be sorry that you did it.  I promise.