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2006-07-12 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Donna, Donna, When Ben Franklin said: "Honesty is the best policy", he wasn't referring to rehoming dogs and cats, yet the adage does apply. Knowing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is extremely important when trying to place secondhand pets in loving, forever homes. Omissions or little white lies from former owners, or shelters and rescue workers are damaging to the welfare of the public, as well as the surrendered animal.

First "honesty is the best policy" for owners: I've always been reluctant to plant ideas in print that devious folks might use. However, after a quarter century of finding abandoned pets and eavesdropping as people drop off animals, I see that no one needs my help to scheme; so instead, I'd like to install a jumbo polygraph machine at each town shelter that determines who is telling the truth when they say they "found" a dog or cat. Owners, who try to slip a pet in as a stray, aren't any better than those who tie a dog to the door. They are not fooling anyone, plus they are hurting their pets' chances of finding a suitable new home. Out of sight, out of mind. No one can interview the bewildered pet left behind to get a background. By the way, now most municipal shelters make people show their drivers licenses for every transaction.

Golden Collie mix, right Golden Collie mix, right A medical history on a previously owned dog or cat, including records from the family's vet, takes the guess work out of the equation. Sure saves a ton of money on diagnostic veterinary tests too. It is so helpful to know a pet's true age (and name). They can't all be "Rumpelstiltskin". We, including yours truly, Mrs. Milkbone, pet detective, are often wrong about the adults. There is no definitive way to estimate age. While dreaming about huge lie detectors, I'll also wish for a universal microchip or birth date tattoo (like racing greyhounds have). Then we would have every real birthday.

A behavioral survey from the former owner is crucial too. Although most shelters do their own temperament testing, it is better to have the full story. Many town shelters provide questionnaires for relinquishing owners, but a Jan. '06 study from the Univ. of Pennsylvania and Univ. of California vet schools finds that people tend to be less than truthful; probably for fear that their pets will be put to sleep. Concealing problems such as aggression or fear of strangers may pose a danger to shelter personnel or potential adopters, while neglecting to mention other issues like separation anxiety or house soiling may cause the pet to be returned. The vicious cycle of homelessness continues.

Part of this research was a survey at 2 Sacramento shelters. One group was given a questionnaire that they were told would be kept confidential; the other knew it would be shared with the shelter staff. Significantly more dogs in the confidential group were reported as aggressive or fearful. Of course, shelter workers can't lie to people and say their answers will be kept confidential. Yet, these owners may have thought they were improving their pets' chances by hiding negative information, when actually they were making matters worse for the pet and the shelter. Therefore, savvy shelters assess the pet, in whatever ways are possible, and don't take responses on their own questionnaires as gospel.

Nextasking for "nothing but the truth" at the municipal shelters: Some owners are nave; others ask no questions and are out of the office at the speed of light. However, the shelter staff must be honest about the pet's possibilities of adoption and how long the animal may be held. Stays at town facilities have become much more generous, when there is space, but our pounds can never be lifelong sanctuaries, because they do not have the luxury of being selective as the private shelters do. The public needs to know the whole story. For instance, it isn't "bring your pet into the pound on a Monday or Wednesday". The callers must know it's only those 2 days, because those are the days they do euthanasia. If nothing else, the truth may behoove the callers out of guilt to find a new home on their own.

Finally seeking the "whole truth" from animal advocates, either staff or volunteer: Experience turns you into a realist. It takes time to realize you cannot save every animal, and equally important, that it is not true that "any" home is better than no home. Gone are the days when I used to chase the unsavory guy who just adopted a Doberman (that would probably spend his short, tortured life on a chain) into the parking lot to tell him that he forgot his "free neuter" certificate. He'd look at me like I had 2 heads.

Full disclosure can cause friction when working alongside "humaniacs" or those new to pet rescue. I've interjected detailssuch as the fact that a dog can scale a 6 foot fenceto the scorn of a zealot who said I ruined her possible home. Isn't it better that the people are prepared, or decide not to take a particular dog, than it is to have the shelter called to retrieve its lifeless body when the dog is hit by a car?

We are all like sales people when promoting a homeless dog or cat, so there must be truth in advertising. If dogs were real estate, we'd have to tell customers if the basement floods. The people are going to find out anyway, and then it will be to everyone's detriment. We can't shave a decade off an ancient animal's age, or neglect to tell prospective owners the facts we know... like the Border collie has been returned twice before for nipping, or the cat misses the litter box, or the Lab mix was on Prozac for the last 5 years.

Time has turned me into a dog snob, especially when placing purebreds. We can't push certain breeds with unique traits and needs, such as Huskies, on the inexperienced owner just because they are beautiful. If we really care about the wellbeing of an animal, we strive for the right fit. A new pet is supposed to become a permanent addition to a family. "Any" home can become a parade of "many" homes, and then none at all. "Any" home may not be better than no home. This might sound callous coming from a rescue person, but after 25 years, this one still has 2 heads.

So here is what we know about the 2 poster dogs at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon"Donna"this purebred, middle aged stray German shepherd dog in Cage 59 makes a better impression outside playing than she does barking in the kennel. That happens often. She appears to come

from German lines, and knows some commands. This adorable male Golden/Collie mix puppy in Cage 41 is under a year. Little Shelter was supposed to come get him but hasn't shown up yet, so hurry, if he appeals to you There are many more photos of Babylon dogs and cats on Petfinder.

Females: an old, abandoned German shepherd in Cage 79; a small black Lab mix hit by a car on the parkway in Cage 75; "Jessie"a sweet 2 yr. Rottie/Lab mix in Cage 61who comes with her own box of heartworm preventative; "Ivy"a nice declawed tortie cat.

Males: a young purebred St. Bernard in Cage 43; "Noz"the cute Westie escape artist in Cage 15; "Peanut"a young Beagle with a cherry eye in Cage 35; "Billy"a quiet Collie mix puphis former owner is homeless too.

Team Vivi Update: The Westminster Whippet has been spotted several times in the Glendale Queens area. I have gorgeous LOST posters made by the Texas owner of Vivi's son if anyone works in that area and would like some.

Readers can write to Joanne Anderson, the Pet Lady, in c/o Babylon Beacon Newspaper, Box L., Babylon Ny 11702. Or, send your questions or concerns to her at acjnews@rcn.com

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