After I wrote about pet-rescue groups, I got quite a few e-mails of support, most from people who are themselves rescue volunteers and were happy to see their efforts acknowledged and publicized. But one e-mail that wasn't so supportive really caught my attention.
"You noted there were downsides to dealing with rescue groups," wrote the anonymous e-mailer. "But among them you didn't list that these people are nuts."
The reader went on to complain about what happened when she tried to adopt a cat from a rescue group. "It would have been easier to adopt a baby, I swear," she wrote.
The rescue volunteers wanted her name, address and phone number, where she worked, what she did and how many hours she was away from home each day. If she had children, or a dog. They wanted to know if she'd ever had cats before, and what happened to each one.
The potential adopter thought this all pretty intrusive. "Why are they giving someone who wants to give a cat a good home such a hard time?" she asked.
Turns out they weren't done with her yet. The group wouldn't place a pet with anyone who wouldn't agree to keep the cat exclusively inside, or anyone who'd even consider declawing the animal. The woman has had free-roaming cats all her life, all either rescued strays or pets taken in from shelters or other animal welfare groups. She doesn't think it's fair to keep a cat completely inside, and she said she had no intention of keeping her next cat inside, either. And yes, she'd once declawed one of her cats, and couldn't promise it wouldn't happen again.
The rescue group turned down her application.
"These people treated me like they thought I was going to use the cat I wanted to adopt to train pit bulls to fight," she wrote. "I've loved my cats and have cared for them well. Where do these people get off judging me to be an unfit home?"
I've been on the other side of this fence from the reader, having once run a small rescue group. As a rescue volunteer, I had to say "no" to a few people whose intentions were good, but who I believed wouldn't be able to follow through with their promises. Although I loved making people happy, my main reason for volunteering was to restore the faith in humans that the animals in my care had before they were given up, and I knew that my goal would be accomplished only by finding a caring "forever" home for each animal.
That said, I do know of rescue groups that seem to go a little too far, insisting that there's only one right way to care for a pet -- their way. When I was volunteering in rescue, I tried very hard to judge each person on his or her merits, and not to deal in absolutes. For example, while some dog-rescue groups would automatically rule out someone who doesn't have a fenced yard, one of the most perfect homes I ever found for one of my foster dogs was with a woman who lived in a condo with no yard at all. She sent me pictures off and on for years, and the most kind-hearted thank-you note ever when the dog I placed with her finally died of old age.
I'd like to hear from more readers on this subject. Do you think rescue groups (and shelters) are too picky when it comes to placing pets? Have you ever been turned down for a pet you wanted to adopt, and did you think the reason you were given was fair? If you're a rescue volunteer, please tell me about the people you thought were perfect for the pets you were placing or those you turned down, and why. Drop me a note to the addresses at the end of the column. I'll follow up on this subject in a future column, and will post as many of the responses as I can on my Web site.
PETS ON THE WEB
A reader sent me a link to the Rate My Kitten site (www.ratemykitten.com), which has enough cat images to please even the most adoring of feline fans. The site is nothing fancy, just image after image of cats and kittens, along with a 1-through-10 scale of judging them. Top vote-getters are listed, as are the ones visitors liked least. Membership is optional.
The most numerous victims of the SARS virus aren't human, but animals, including cats and dogs reportedly slaughtered by the thousands in Asian countries even though no link has been made connecting the disease to domestic pets. (The civet cat, which has been reported to carry the SARS virus, is a wild animal related to the mongoose, not to the domestic cat.)
Diseases that are passed from animals to humans have always been a problem, and the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your pets healthy and take commonplace precautions when it comes to handling animals.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has put together a page of resources on the topic of zoonotic disease ("zoonotic" is the scientific term for diseases that move from animals to humans). Reviewing the information (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasiticpathways/animals.htm) is time well spent.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our dog was diagnosed with diabetes almost two years ago. We take him in every six months for testing to see how his diabetes is doing. So far, he has been getting a good report from the veterinarian. Our dog was overweight before he had diabetes, and a lot of overweight dogs can get diabetes, just as overweight people do.
Many people are unaware that dogs can get diabetes. When I go to the pharmacy to pick up his insulin, people give me a strange look when I tell them it's for my dog. Would you please inform others about this? –- P.M., via e-mail
A: Yes, pets do get diabetes, and yes, obesity is a factor, albeit not the only one. I can't tell you how many people over the years have written me with the assumption that diabetes is a death sentence for their pets, when that's simply not true, as you've found out.
As you've also discovered, diabetes does require regular monitoring by a veterinarian, as well as a fair amount of work (and expense) to determine the correct insulin dose in the weeks after diagnosis. Many people worry that they will not be able to give their pets insulin shots, but I've found that these same people eventually come to believe that giving shots is "no big deal."
The signs of diabetes may include high levels of hunger, thirst and urination, as well as weight loss. If your pet is showing these symptoms, you need to see your veterinarian, no matter what.
The Veterinary Partners Web site, owned by my "Cats for Dummies" author Dr. Paul Pion, offers good information on this disease (and others) at www.veterinarypartners.com (put "diabetes" in the site's search engine to bring up the information). Probably the best site on diabetes in pets is FelineDiabetes.com, which was started by a physician as a resource for others after his cat was diagnosed with the disease.
Q: I'm a first-time dog owner and I've just discovered ticks! What's the best prevention, and what should you do when you find a tick on your dog? –- S.L., via e-mail
A: Recently I was having dinner with some pet-loving friends (which is a little redundant: If you're a friend of mine, chances are very good indeed that you're a pet lover!). Topic of discussion: Are ticks the most disgusting thing you've ever seen? Consensus: Yes!
Aside from the gross-out factor, ticks are easy to deal with. For safety's sake, always be careful not to handle them with your bare hands. Instead, use tweezers or a tick-pulling device (shaped like a spoon with a slot in it to catch the tick) to remove the pest. You can collect pulled ticks in a bowl with rubbing alcohol in it, then flush the disgusting mess down the toilet when you've collected them all. Watch each area where a tick was for a couple of days, and if you see inflammation or infection, talk to your veterinarian.
Spot-on medications available from your veterinarian will help keep your pet free of both fleas and ticks, but if you live in an area with lots of the ticks, you may also need to add a tick collar. With any pest-control products, discuss the risks with your veterinarian, and be sure to follow directions to the letter for your pet's safety.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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