One thing everyone agrees on when it comes to animal rescue groups and how they operate: Everyone wants what's best for the animals who need new homes.
It's in deciding what's best, however, that well-meaning people part ways.
After my recent column on rescue, in which a reader criticized what she felt were overly intrusive and demanding adoption policies, I asked if these groups are too picky when it comes to placing pets. I heard plenty from pet lovers on both sides of the debate.
Clearly, there's a lot of misunderstanding on the part potential adopters about what rescue groups are trying to accomplish. And there's a lot of mistrust on the part of rescue groups of anyone trying to adopt.
Rescuers want the homeless animals in their care, many of whom have been neglected and sometimes abused, to find permanent, caring homes. They see each animal as an individual, and they see themselves as an advocate on behalf of that animal for finding the "perfect" home. The woman who originally criticized the groups in an e-mail to me characterized some of the people in them as "nuts" for their zeal in achieving this goal, a term some rescue volunteers resented, while others embraced.
"Of course we are nuts!" writes Helen Terwilliger, with the Second Chance Sheltering Network in Buffalo, N.Y. "Who else would be crawling under porches to save starving and abandoned cats and kittens, and trying to coax an abandoned dog with an open can of food in hopes of gaining his trust so that his injured leg can be treated instead of spending time with our family or playing a game of golf? Who else would be doing fund-raisers every weekend to raise money for vet bills to care for society's cast-off animals? Only crazy, dedicated, loving 'nuts.'"
That kind of dedication understandably leads to a high level of emotional involvement with the animals saved by these volunteers. It's only natural that in looking for homes, some groups lean toward people who share their values, sometimes to the point of saying no to anyone who wouldn't care for an animal in exactly the same way, even on issues that offer a wide range of generally accepted care options.
"These rescue groups seem to think that there's only one way to raise an animal -- their way!" writes one frustrated would-be adopter. "I don't think people mind filling out applications for adoptions of pets, or having someone check with their local vet. I don't even think it's too intrusive to ask about previous pets and whether they are still part of the family or what has happened to them. But I draw the line as to personal income questions, working hours, place of employment, personal references and home visits!"
My take on all this? There's truth to the complaints on both sides.
People who are looking to adopt need to understand that rescue groups know their stuff and can make a better match if they know the prospective adopter's situation -- and that means asking a lot of questions. Remember: A good match is to the benefit of the adopter as well as the animal -- no one wants to give an animal back. And if you get turned down repeatedly, you ought to consider the possibility that you shouldn't have a pet before you go to a no-questions-asked source, such as a pet store. Otherwise, the pet you get may end up looking for a home.
Rescue groups, at the very least, could be more civil in the handling of adopters, especially those people they are turning down. Why miss an opportunity to educate? We know you're volunteers, but returning phone calls and e-mails promptly and politely is a must. Groups should be a little more open-minded and flexible, too, in what determines an acceptable home. For every rule you set -- no kids, fenced yard, what-have-you -- I can think of examples of people who break those rules and are wonderful with their pets.
In other words, we all can do better for the animals by being kinder and more understanding to each other. You can see reader comments on this topic -- and add your own -- on my Web site, www.spadafori.com.
Some pet beds are -- how can I say this politely? - Tacky and ugly. For people whose taste is a little more refined, there's the Beastly Furnishings Web site (www.beastlyfurnishings.com). Offering pet-sized couches and more, this Nebraska-based company may be just the ticket if you're hoping to keep your pets off the furniture by offering them their own. The stuff is cute, but because furniture for pets trips my silly alarm, I have to recommend that if you can spend hundreds of dollars for a chaise lounge for a pet, you really ought to also send some money to a shelter to help those animals who aren't as spoiled as yours.
PETS ON THE WEB
Standard litter boxes aren't the best choice for every cat. Kittens may find the sides too high, and big cats may find the size too small. Any cat who doesn't find the litter box "just right" may be less inclined to use it, so sometimes it pays to be creative. For kittens, recycling an old square 9-by-9 baking dish may be ideal. Sweater boxes or other plastic storage containers -- with the lids removed, of course -- may work out better for large cats or those whose energetic litter-flinging demands a box with higher side.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A while back you mentioned a vacuum that seemed to work well for you. I'm trying to justify the cost to my husband, and it would be great to hear from someone who has had firsthand experience using the Dyson for pets. We have three dogs and a cat. I want to find something that's easy to run, easy to empty and works great. -- V.F. via e-mail
A: Yes, the Dyson is expensive -- between $400 and $500, depending on the model. It's cheaper than the high-end models, but more expensive than your basic bagless from a good manufacturer.
At that price, I have to admit I wasn't in any hurry to buy one, until yet another vacuum went out on me. I don't know if it's all the pet hair or if I have particularly bad luck with appliances, but over the years my vacuums have seemed to last about two or three years, tops. That includes a variety of top-rated models from brand-name manufacturers, in what seems to be a middle price range of $200 to $300.
On one of the pet-related e-mail lists I'm on, we had a long and sometimes heated discussion on vacuums. I noticed the Dyson being mentioned again and again, with fans who were more dedicated than seemed normal for a vacuum cleaner to have. What's more, they used words like "fun" and "cute" in describing it.
So I bought the basic Dyson, which really is pretty cute, in bright raincoat yellow.
A friend of mine said her Dyson was powerful enough to suck up a small dog, so I made sure the small dog was outside when I turned the vacuum on. The results were impressive: The Dyson sucked a noticeable amount of hair and dirt off a carpet freshly cleaned by a loaner vac, and it was light and easy to maneuver. Also, the canister is easy to remove, empty and replace.
Fun? Well, maybe, but only if you like housekeeping better than I do. The big question is longevity, and I won't know the answer to that for a few years. But so far, I'm happy with the beast. The Dyson also has a purple model called "The Animal," that's designed specifically for animal hair, at about $100 more than the basic one.
Q: We feed our golden retriever raw carrots, broccoli and asparagus stalks, celery and spinach, all of which she eats with apparent pleasure. Some of these certainly help keep her teeth clean and satisfy her need to chew. Any problems you can see? -- L.K., via e-mail
A: Raw vegetables are a wonderful treat. I often recommend carrots as a substitute for biscuits in pets who are pudgy. (Mini rice cakes are another good low-cal treat many dogs enjoy.)
The dogs I have now all love veggies, but not with the enthusiasm of Andy, my dog who died last year at almost 16 years of age. Andy was so passionate for tomatoes that my friends Sue and Ken would bring him a basket from their garden for his birthday.
Lord, I miss that dog!
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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