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2012-08-01 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

Remember the cat juggling scene in the 1979 Steve Martin movie, The Jerk? Martin as the title character sets out on his 18th birthday to discover the world. When he stumbles on footage of a Mexican carnival performer that looks suspiciously like him juggling three kittens, Martin cries out in horror: “I’ve heard about this cat juggling! Stop! Stop! Stop it! Stop it! Good, Father, how could there be a god that would let this happen?”

Well, the funny thing is cat and dog juggling, though not in the literal Steven Martin sense, is exactly what every shelter and rescue organization must do continuously to create space, maximize adoptability and save more lives in the flood of homeless animals that need care and placement. Here are some examples of pet juggling within municipal shelters, private rescues and transport networks:

** Town Shelter Juggling: On LI, space is still a precious shelter commodity even though pets are kept longer than in poor rural states. Striving to be “No Kill” presents a new set of obstacles because town facilities must take in every stray dog. Owner surrenders, even folks with hardships, must wait for space. Years ago surrendered and senior pets were put down immediately and strays stayed the minimum legal time. Now local town shelters are holding pets for extended stays, sometimes years, even though the influx never stops. Since shelters must come up with creative or contingency kennel and cage strategies, every nook and cranny, including the front lobby, garage and office, becomes a holding and/or display area.

During kitten season, from April through December, shelters accrue long waiting lists. Babylon just put the lobby cat cages on donated pedestal tables. The cats have a better window view of the outside world, and become more noticeable to adopters at eye level. Besides, it is much easier to clean under elevated cages. Hempstead has a huge foster kitten program, sending infants that need bottle feeding home with caretakers and bringing them back when they can eat on their own, preferably when they are big enough to spay/neuter. Sadly the supply of cats and kittens everywhere overshadows the demand for adoptions. The public may not realize that municipal shelters are not bound by law to take in any cats. NYS considers them free-roaming animals.

Because overly abundant Pit Bulls compete with each other for a limited number of responsible homes, Pits tend to linger indefinitely. At least 80% of the dogs in LI town shelters are Bully breeds. Brookhaven is so packed that dogs share runs- one on each side of the guillotine door which is not necessarily a good thing. Shelters in affluent areas tend to have less homeless dogs (whereas feral cat clusters transcend socio-economics). Some town shelters have kindly helped distribute the canine surplus. Southampton, Southold and North Hempstead “transplant” dogs from other shelters. Oyster Bay has relatively few dogs and just helped crowded Babylon by taking several non-Pit residents, including Mischka, a Husky shown in the 7/19 “Pets” as a poster dog.

** Private Rescue Juggling: Non-profits, such as Last Hope, have the luxury of selecting which dogs/cats to accept for placement. Requests for help are constant. Last Hope has cats “stashed” at two adoption centers, three storefront satellite sites plus tons waiting in the wings of foster care. Private rescues have cat waiting lists too. Last Hope adoptable cats are rescued from the streets and taken out of municipal shelters. TNR (trap/neuter/ return) within managed colonies rather than adoption is the feral cat master plan.

All Last Hope dogs come from municipal shelters. Our 20 kennel spots in Wantagh have been compared to Willy Wonka’s golden tickets because opportunity and attention from 200 volunteers await the lucky, onceoverlooked dogs chosen. We try to strike a balance between local dogs lost among the municipal masses and rural death-due shelter dogs arriving on transports. I disagree with those who say that each out-of-state shelter dog adopted on LI takes a home from a local dog. Not everyone is in the market for a Pit Bull. Nor should they be. Transports are saving highly adoptable, sociable dogs that would be dead if groups in the Northeast didn’t commit to them. The law of supply and demand rules again. Discarded Los Angeles Chihuahuas are airlifted to other parts of the country where they are wanted.

Last Hope reserves spots for Pits. Unfortunately Pits can languish at private rescues also. When deciding which Pits come next, you try to look into your adoption crystal ball to predict who can be adopted faster. Recently I brought in Blondie, the St. Charles Cemetery Pit, before bringing another Babylon staff favorite because I felt she would be adopted quickly, and then make room for the other. Blondie went home with a Last Hope volunteer but the dog jugglers filled her cage with a Brookhaven Pit we picked out at the “Just One” event. The remaining Babylon Pit mix will be next. Or at least I hope so.

**Transport Juggling: I work with the West Virginia network, but Last Hope also “imports” dogs from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina. Transport coordinators are dog juggling geniuses, racing against the clock as deserving dogs run out of time. Coordinators post detailed descriptions of urgent shelter dogs, trying to convince Northeast rescues to take them. Dedicated rescuers work with their overcrowded pounds or directly with dog wardens. When there is no pound in a county, the warden immediately euthanizes surrendered dogs so rescuers rely on foster homes to hold dogs with rescue commitments until the next transport. I recently arranged to take a WV pup that was then stashed at a girls’ boarding school.

Coordinators recruit volunteer drivers for the multileg transports that begin in Maryland and end in Maine, and plan synchronized run sheets that would rival any timetable NASA produced. When a dog is pulled off last minute, another of the same weight fills his “seat.”

Last Hope is on the receiving end, trying to juggle crates to fit as many dogs as possible in an SUV. A wellbehaved pooch passenger can ride shot gun. At first we would drive to NJ or CT to pick up a WV dog, but if you are going for one, why not two? Now it’s why not four?

The four new transport dogs at Last Hope Dog Center (631-946-9528), 3300 Beltagh Ave in Wantagh include “Wrangler” a last-minute replacement when the WV boarding school dog was hospitalized. Wrangler is an adorable Tibetan Spaniel mix about four years old. “Guthrie,” a handsome Coonhound about two years old, had been at a KY shelter since April and was an urgent post. We agreed to take him at 1 a.m. after learning he was scheduled to be put down the next morning for lack of space. “Indira,” a Border Collie mix pup, and “Fritz,” a Fox Terrier mix pup, are extremely affectionate.

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