Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The County Vet Tech’s View

Aiken County Animal Advocates


(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)

By Joya DiStefano

“The one thing about this job,” she began, “is that you can never get up thinking you are going to the same old job.”

Sandy Larsen is a senior vet tech at the Aiken County Animal Shelter.

She may arrive at the gate early in the morning and find a box full of kittens or puppies or a dog tied to the fence.

The gate is on heavily trafficked Wire Road, where the speed limit is 55 mph. Sometimes the box is empty, or the leash chewed in half. Maybe the temperature dipped into the 20s that night. This is how a workday may begin.

Sandy remembers when the shelter was built and meant to hold 100 animals.
The number impounded at the shelter this October was 467; the previous October was 485, and the October before that was 491.

In the last 10 years, only October 2007 saw the intake number under 400 at 362.
Otherwise, the average for Octobers is 450 animals, the last three years being the highest of four in 10 years.

Intake is much higher from April to August.

What does a veterinary technician do in this environment? Nearly everything, except bring the animals to the County Shelter.

If Sandy’s week starts on Monday, she is up at o’dark-thirty to come and get the been-here-too-long-pet-of-the-week and take it on television.

She has not missed a Monday in years. Her spot airs at 6 a.m.

“Sometimes I have even brought that box of abandoned puppies or kittens to show what some people will do.”

At the shelter, first task daily is to check the dogs on “the adoption floor;” the current shelter does not actually have a separate wing like the new shelter will provide.

There is a wire gate separating the “5-day holds” from the adoptable animals, all sharing the same air, the same open drainage trenches, the same smells and sounds.

“We check the floor for kennel cough and diarrhea, and medicate accordingly,” said Sandy.
Next, the 5-day holds are reviewed so see who might be eligible to move up to the adoption floor on a space-available basis. These candidates will be checked for heartworm.

If positive, they are not eligible for adoption and will be euthanized if a rescue cannot be located who will take them.

If negative, they get wormed and shots and another chance at a good home.

The strays with mange, the cats with upper respiratory infections (URIs), the dogs disabled by age or injury find their final rest in the compassionate hands of a vet tech like Sandy.
The two county vet techs field calls from the foster families calling with health concerns for puppies or kittens in their care.

And before the county added a custodian position a year ago, they supervised the county inmates who work cleaning and feeding and dong the routine maintenance, if anything can be called routine in such an overcrowded, understaffed facility.

Three days a week, people who’ve adopted puppies and kittens bring their pets back to be spayed and neutered.

The vet techs assist the county vet with surgeries Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They order and maintain records on all medications, for the sick, surgery and those being fostered.

They do paperwork for intake, adoptions, transfers and disposal. They help volunteers keep the Petfinder website up to date. And for 6.5 hours a day the doors are open to the public.

The dog-walker volunteers arrive and want to know who got adopted since they were last there.

“What happened to Jake, or Millie, this one, or that one? They know all the dogs so well,” Sandy said with appreciation.

Things have changed in Sandy Larsen’s world since Friends of the Animal Shelter helped establish the volunteer, foster and transfer programs beginning in 2009.

Referring to the recent adoption special for November, “Back-in-Black really helped with adoptions,” Sandy said.

A lot has changed for a shelter staff that saw only 265 animals re-homed out of 5,717 impounded in FY04.

In FY13, 1,581 animals were either adopted or transferred out of 4,794 impounded. Or put another way, in 2004 less than 5 percent of the impounded animals were saved; last year it was 33 percent.

Tired after another long day in another busy week, Sandy turned to a particular heartbreak.
Hard to bear that people will abandon helpless pets, unwanted and unnecessary puppies and kittens, but worst of all for Sandy are those who sacrifice their elderly pets saying, “I don’t like this dog anymore.” “I just don’t want it,” because it can’t do what it once could, because it doesn’t suit their needs.

“We live in a world where everything is so disposable,” Sandy says sadly thinking that, if she retires, she may give one or two of these seniors a very loving home.

Aiken County and our animals are blessed to have public servants like Sandy Larsen.

A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS, Inc.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Wagener Led the County in Targeted Spay/Neuter

Aiken County Animal Advocates


(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)

By Joya DiStefano

Oh, Wagener area residents, you have no idea how proud you can be of what you have started here in Aiken County.  Let me tell you.

In the spring of 2012, a bunch of animal advocates got together and took advantage of an opportunity to compete to raise the most money of any other rescue group participating.  The contest was sponsored by an outfit called Pawmetto Lifeline in Columbia that had just opened a high-volume clinic, and it was out to spay or neuter any animal they could get their little scalpel on.  The Aiken County group won the contest and was rewarded with nearly $5,000 credit at the Pawmetto Lifeline clinic.  That money served to begin a targeted spay/neuter project that is gradually establishing itself in local communities throughout Aiken County.  Wagener was chosen to be the pilot project, and, with the tireless cooperation of Town Hall and local resident, Dottie Gantt, Wagener remains the most successful community-based spay/neuter assistance program going.

Why Spay or Neuter your pets?

Perhaps you don’t care all that much what happens to all the unwanted dogs and cats in your area.  As long as they don’t bother you, it should be someone else’s responsibility, right?  Then they are in your yard, in front of your truck, dying along the roads, converging on your bitch-in-heat, fighting with your male dog, howling through the night.  This is not a problem one can shoot his way out of.

Most people who have pets care about their welfare.  Most…  Your animals will be healthier, happier pets if they are spayed or neutered.  They will be content to remain home.  They will have way fewer incidences of cancer.  They will mark less, fight less, and mess in your house less.  You will find they are more loving, because they are less frustrated.  A male dog can sense a female in heat within a mile in every direction.  Unaltered, the poor animal has to function with a message screaming in their brain, I NEED TO BREED! By altering them, we eliminate that message and all the physical complications that go with it.
There are a bunch of old-wives tales about the negative effect of spaying or neutering your animals.  It is not true that your female will get fat and lazy.  Fat and lazy is due to too much bad food and not enough exercise.  If your dog hunts, it will still hunt.  If your dog is protective, it will still guard.  And, no, breeding your beloved pet will not give you a replacement copy.  Breeding your pet will put more breeding animals into an already over-populated environment.  And they can start young; dogs by 6 months and cats by four months.

How to Get ‘r Done!

The local Spay/Neuter Assistance Program has made it so easy to get your pets fixed, you just can’t put it off any longer.  Here’s how it works:

For Household Pets

  1. You go to the Wagener Town Hall and ask for an enrollment form.
  2. Fill it out your contact information and identify the dogs or cats you want to have fixed.
  3. Provide information regarding your income status/ number of animals you own.
  4. Leave the completed form at Town Hall

Based on the number of animals in the applications, a surgery date will be scheduled at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken.  If you want your animal(s) transported from Wagener, you will be told what day to bring it/them to the Wagener Gazebo on the morning of surgery.  The animals will be returned the following morning.  Arrangements can also be made for you to self-transport in either or both directions.  

The cost is $20 for each animal and includes rabies vaccine and a microchip.  
For more information call: (803) 634-0564

Lenny’s Brigade for “Community Cats”

 A community cat is an unowned cat that calls the outdoors home.  Community cat colonies develop where there is shelter and a food source.  Without assistance, they can often get out of control.  People, who like cats, take pity on the strays and feed them, often find themselves facing the painful situation of being overrun.  Lenny’s Brigade offers a humane approach; one that does not promote killing healthy cats; one that can help bring the situation back under control.  If you or someone you know is in such a plight, call the Lenny’s Brigade Hotline: (803) 507-6315.  Someone will get back to you and tell you how to proceed. 

People of the Aiken County East, you have led the way!  Let’s not stop now.  You have a solid core of animal advocates among you who can help you continue to show Aiken County the way!  Spay and Neuter your pets. Let’s put an end to unwanted litters, and the cost and heartbreak they bring.  Let’s do it together!

A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, writer, local Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS, Inc. who lives with eleven dogs, one amazing cat and a husband who is a saint.

Change Happens in Small Bites

Aiken County Animal Advocates


(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)

By Joya DiStefano

This Aiken County Animal Advocates Columns was posted in the Aiken Standard on XXXX

When she first heard the plaintive cry she thought it might be a cat in distress.  The location in Hitchcock Woods made it seem unlikely, but the woman stopped.  The dogs did not seem to notice the cry. It may have been far enough off to be a bird in one of the tall pines in the distance. She walked on.

Two days later, travelling the same path behind her dogs, the cry came again, closer this time.  The dogs found him first, backed up against a small tree maybe twenty feet off the trail and hundreds of yards from any houses.  The black and white kitten was electrified with terror at the dogs’ curiosity; every hair was erect. Little white paws flared with claws extended, the feeble hiss was as ferocious as the tiny creature could make it.  The woman scooped the flailing kitten up.  Half way to her chest he gave up the fight and curled his emaciated body into her protective arms.  Days later he had a new home.

Same week, in another part of town, a lovely young bull terrier mix named Pandora had become such a nuisance to her owners that when a teenage youth went to return her to the yard where she easily and often cleared the fence, the owners said he could have her; they didn’t want her anymore.  The boy was delighted and took her back down the street to the modest rental where he lived.  His mom and big sister were terrified of the dog, but said that he could keep her. He set Pandora up with a bed in the shed behind the house.  Their fence was no better at confining Pandora than where she’d come from.  The very next day she cleared it and got into a fracas with a dog being leash-walked past the house.  The owner walking her dog got nicked attempting to break up the fight and called Public Safety. 

Pandora arrived at the Aiken County Shelter in the trunk, the boy’s mother being too afraid to have the dog inside the car while she drove. The youth carried the dog to the office wrapping his arms around her chest; her long body suspended nearly the length of his own. 

It was Saturday.  Two inmates and two employees were handling the calls, the public, and the volunteers.  A family with two young boys was delivering the mountain of dog food, blankets and toys, the older son had received from well-wishers for his seventh birthday.  They were accompanied by their neighbor who noticed that the delight of the two children, on their proud adventure, stood in sharp contrast to the youth, his worried mom, and little sister, waiting for the Animal Control Officer to arrive from the scene of the dogfight in their neighborhood.  The birthday boy’s neighbor asked the youth about the dog, now on a leash, which stood quietly beside him with intelligent interest cocking her head side to side.

He explained how he had come by the dog the day before and added shyly, “People afraid of pitt bulls because they say they mean, but they not. I like them.” 

The woman stooped down and Pandora gave her a couple of “Howdy!” licks on the face.  She decided right there to help the boy keep his dog if circumstances allowed. 

They did.  The complainant did not press charges.  DHEC said Pandora could be quarantined at the home for ten days.  All that was needed was a no-slip collar and a tie-out.  When the woman brought a box of training treats to go with the confinement provisions the young man’s face lit up. “That’s what I wanted!” he said with notable enthusiasm.  Why?  He wants to learn how to train his new friend.  Pandora may just have a chance at a bright future and she may help take her young master with her.

Pandora and the Hitchcock Woods kitten got lucky. But Pandora being a bull terrier, and the kitten being a kitten, had they been impounded would have stood almost zero chance of surviving, 98% for stray cats and not much better for pit bulls.  The problem of unwanted and poorly managed animals is enormous.  But we are a growing community dedicated to tackling it.  It is like they say; the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time!  

A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, co-founder of FOTAS, and founder of PAWS, Inc.