Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Relevant We Are is Key

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 6/26/2014

“The great progress that we have made… to reduce the shelter death toll has mostly come from reducing shelter intake rates.” – Peter Marsh, author of Getting to Zero

Snoop looks like a vanilla border collie with a swooping curl of a tail over her rump like a Spitz.  When I enter the large education room in the SPCA Albrecht Center, she approaches to give me a cursory sniff before returning to her people and matters at hand.  Ann Kinney, head of Phideaux University at the SPCA is doing a consult with Snoop and her parents, who had brought Snoop to P.U. because she lunges at other dogs on leash walks.  Snoop, a Molly’s Militia save, was clearly devoted to her humans, looking and returning to her “mister” again and again. 

The subject in progress was why the pinch collar is contrary to current behavior management theory with dogs.

I was there because my husband and I were into 4 digits with the vet bills for damage, done by a recent adoption, to other dogs in our large canine family.  After the 4 days our beagle-cross had to spend in the clinic with tubes in her wounds, our vet had referred us to Melissa Hartley at Sindar Kennels.  Melissa is another canine behavior consultant.  Thanks to Melissa’s clear concrete guidance, our family is intact and will remain so.  There is no doubt that had we surrendered Dolly-Mama to a shelter, she would have died there, another statistic. Dolly’s trigger is arousal; who doesn’t get aroused in a pound?

Typically when people hear the term “No-Kill” they think of a safe-haven shelter for animals that would otherwise be victims of the alternative: open-admission, high-kill shelters run by public animal control departments like we have here in the cities of North Augusta and Aiken, and the Aiken County Shelter.  This is a misconception.  Actually, a “no-kill” shelter that does not have the programs in place to move its inhabitants quickly and effectively into good permanent homes will be just another inhumane alternative for homeless pets, and a costly one at that.

“No-Kill” is a widely tested nation-wide movement that may come under other names, like “Getting to Zero,” or “Empty Cages.”  It begins with a premise: rounding up cats and dogs and then killing them for lack of space or interest is like treating malaria with quinine instead of eradicating mosquitoes.  To support a no-kill agenda means that priority-one is to keep animals out of shelters in the first place by tackling the “unwanted” part of the equation.

Accessible low-cost spay/neuter, and publicly supported trap-neuter-return (TNR) for free-roaming cats, are the foundation to all no-kill efforts.  Through the SNYP program (Spay/Neuter Your Pet) in partnership with the SPCA, PAWS (Palmetto Animal Welfare Services), the new No-Kill animal advocacy organization in town, does the outreach for clients and funds toward eliminating companion animal overpopulation. 

Following aggressive spay/neuter programs, No-Kill initiatives take on more unique characteristics depending on the communities involved, but all no-kill efforts will tackle pet retention next.  It is not enough to have people want to have a pet dog or cat; they have to have the resources and skills to keep them safe at home.  For poor households, this may mean help with food or enclosures, vaccines and heartworm prevention.  For others it may mean referrals to pet-friendly housing, or affordable boarding or pet-care alternatives.  But after preventing unwanted and unnecessary litters, help with basic behavior management is the single most important pet-retention tool.

There are a number of reasons that dogs are surrendered to a shelter by their owners.  Far and away the most common one is behavior: messing, chewing, barking, digging, aggression, to name just a few, and all of which are highly remediable, especially with the help of a behavior consultant.

“Most traditional behavior shaping approaches use escaping pressure or avoiding punishment,” Ann Kinney explains to Snoop’s folks. “It does work, but it is not necessary, and the attitude of the dog is different.”  She hunches to demonstrate how a dog cowers when it fears punishment.

Ann disabuses her clients of the notion that dogs are in any way like wolves, just as Melissa Hartley had done with us over Dolly’s aggression. It is not about who gets to dominate; it is about how relevant we are and how much our dogs will accept our influence whenever we need to assert it.  Both professionals can provide a spot-on diagnostic assessment of the issue and customized, user-friendly ways to develop relationship enhancing alternatives.  “You are training all the time,” Ann says.  

“We are more like counselors or psychologists than trainers,” Melissa says of her profession.  Although the two women have distinct styles, I cannot say enough good things about them as a resource.

In addition to her work with families who have already adopted a dog, Ann Kinney works with the residents and volunteers at the SPCA.  The result is that the dogs’ mental health is supported and enhanced in this temporary environment; hence, they are more adoptable and more likely to adjust to their new home.  A P.U. graduate is virtually guaranteed to be a great companion.  Can you say the same about your half of the relationship?  

If you are reading this column, you are likely an animal lover.  If you are, there are so many ways you can help Aiken County join the no-Kill movement.  If you can’t give money, give time.  If you can’t give time, please give money.  Spay/Neuter requests are averaging 20 a day! Volunteers are needed.  Foster homes are needed.  If not now, when?  If not you, who?

PAWS:  or: (803) 634-0564 
Phideaux University at the SPCA Albrecht Center:    or (803) 648-6863
Sindar Kennel: or (803) 467-7548
Aiken County Animal Shelter:  (803) 642-1537 option 1

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Why Phideaux’s Flea Market Matters

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 06/13/2014

“The continued use of euthanasia to control the size of its cat and dog populations is a choice a community makes, not a necessity.” – Peter Marsh, author of Getting to Zero

What is the cosmic connection between the routine killing of dogs and cats to a Saturday flea market?  The answer lies in an illustrative tale.

Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, more commonly known as PAWS, has a program called SNYP (Spay Neuter Your Pet).  In partnership with the Aiken SPCA, SNYP offers “free” spay/neuter surgeries throughout Aiken County for qualifying households.  

Humans call SNYP volunteers on behalf of their companion cats and dogs and SNYP volunteers work to assure the pets get fixed.  The co-pay is $20 and includes rabies vaccine and a micro-chip. No one is turned away.  

Some get referred to one of the voucher programs, or Lenny’s Brigade for cats, but everyone who calls can get a deal on preventing unwanted litters.  

The conversations are warm, supportive and take a positive problem-solving approach.  Most applicants prefer to self-schedule directly with the SPCA Clinic, but PAWS will transport if necessary.

SNYP costs money, but begging and pleading wears on relationships.  So when the SPCA offered PAWS a spot to raise funds at their monthly Phideaux Flea Market and Dog Wash, we figured that we would give it a try.  

What could be so hard about getting all that stuff out of closets, attics, storage, garages, and selling it?  Well, the answer is if it was that easy it wouldn’t be accumulating in all those handy spaces.

Flash to North Augusta where Todd and Jeannie thought that it was going to take six or eight months to sell their house while their new house was being built.  Yes, the real estate market is soft, so who would have predicted that their house would sell in 29 days and they would be in a crunch to get rid of all that “stuff?”  

Voila!  We start our maiden voyage as flea marketeers with a horse trailer full of yummy stuff.  You have to see the nearly new Mongoose stunt bicycle, and “Clemson-opoly?”  Truly, a find.

But the synchronicity of the last-minute need to empty a house under contract, and an inaugural attempt to turn cast-offs to cash, symbolizes more than the affirmation of one effort.  

Palmetto Animal Welfare Services exists to insist that if we work together, we can save them all.  And I personally believe that if the first step you take is the right one, the road will rise to meet you.

PAWS was founded to address chronic and counter-productive gaps and rifts among a broad array of stakeholders in animal welfare issues in our county and the surrounding region.  As our Facebook page and website claim, “PAWS is a vocal advocate to assist any and all animal welfare efforts in and around Aiken County to end the unnecessary killing of shelter animals.”

We began by forming PAWS as an “umbrella” 501(c)(3) non-profit by uniting a consortium of animal welfare efforts within the corporation.  We also constituted PAWS governing body with people who were already doing the work to which PAWS committed: getting and keeping animals out of shelters.  

Affordable and accessible spay/neuter through SNYP (Spay/Neuter Your Pet) serves the entire county.  SNYP is PAWS core program.  Then Shelter Animal Advocates Aiken Foster Network provides short-term foster care bridging the time between the county shelter and private rescue groups.  Heartbeats raises the funds (averaging $600) to treat dogs who test positive for heartworm while impounded, so that they can be pulled for a partnering rescue.  LEASH Squad in Wagener rescues and rehabilitates dogs that have been victims of cruelty and who need the kind of care few places are equipped to give.

All animal welfare efforts need the support of their communities to function.  Achieving tax-exempt status with the IRS by becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, an expensive and time-consuming process, encourages and expands the essential support by validating the mission of the public charity.  The PAWS group received a letter from the IRS recently informing PAWS that its tax-exempt status should be official by the end of August.  Perhaps it represents another sign we are on the right road.

Tomorrow PAWS will join other flea-marketeers and crafters at the SPCA’s Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare from 8 am until 2 pm.  Should you care to stop by and shop, or deliver some prized item for us to sell, or browse and chat you may find yourself inspired.  

Join the No-kill movement.  Help us “get to zero” with unwanted pet prevention, well-homed pet retention, and pro-active rescue. 

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.