What We Talk About When We Talk About Spays

By: | January 31, 2019

In animal welfare, we talk a lot about the important of spaying & neutering. We see the effects of explosive overpopulation – the exponential growth of two dogs to ten to thirty – and the decision to fix is an easy one.

But what about the people in our community? What about the average people who don’t see the 4,000 animals we care for at the APA – and instead their connection, deep and real, to animal welfare is through a single animal: their animal.

When I joined the APA in March, I was hired as coordinator for our new Pet Partners program. Pet Partners is modeled after the HSUS Pets for Life approach: a radical, compassionate program designed to keep pets in homes, regardless of economic status of families. As part of my job, I would be knocking on the doors of people with limited veterinary resources, folks who may have never stepped foot in a vet’s office. At first, I came with the mindset of a rescuer. I have three years of TNR experience and two of fostering. I know the science of spay and neuter – how it is the only answer for overcrowded shelters.

I hit a wall. The overpopulation argument was intangible to these community members. Their dogs, they argued, stayed in their yards. They didn’t plan to breed them. Sure, accidental litters happened, but they’d find homes for those pups. They were responsible and I, a stranger, wanted to take their dogs just in case? No, thanks.

It wasn’t until I remembered Kesha that things began to gel.

Kesha was my brother’s beloved tan Chihuahua. Full disclosure: this is the kind of story where the dog dies in the end. But stick with me, I think I can make it worth your while.

Certain people have the magic touch when it comes to animals. At the APA, dogs instinctively know they can trust our vet tech, Devan. Ferocious felines melt when they encounter Beth. Robert has an ease around birds that frankly baffles me. For strays, my brother has this kind of energy. In 2010, on some busy intersection, my brother found Kesha. She ran immediately to him, bypassing whizzing cars and other would-be rescuers.

I did not immediately understand my brother’s fascination with this sad gremlin. She was anxious and odd and round like a sausage. But my brother loved her. He argued that she’d stand no chance at animal control because she was reactive and scared and (by some metrics, although not my brother’s) aesthetically displeasing. There was little denying these arguments, so she became the fourth dog to take up permanent residence at my parent’s ranch house in San Bernardino, CA.

And Kesha thrived, or whatever the version of thriving was possible for Kesha. Once, she experimented with the pool, and nearly drowned. Our third dog, a black and sleek Chihuahua, barked incessantly until my father came to investigate. Fully clothed, he jumped in and rescued Kesha.

When it became clear that Kesha could not handle dinner time with the other three dogs, my mother fed her separately in the kitchen. She bought her a big, comfy bed. Kesha once ran away for 12 hours. We are unclear how she escaped, but eventually my mother found her in a closet, with a new squeaky toy. Kesha never left again. As she aged, her eyes grew increasingly buggier and her habits more neurotic. Regardless, for seven years she lived there, treated with love and understanding, even if she never quite grew out of her strange shape or personality.

In 2017, I got a phone call from my father at 9 am. By now, I was living in the central time zone, doing housing outreach in East St Louis. It was 7 am California time and that meant something was wrong. It was October and the day was still and beautiful.

“Kesha is gone,” my dad said. She’d died on the operating table in the middle of the night. The doctors were attempting an emergency save. The cause of death was undetermined but the doctors suspected complications and pyometra: an infection of the uterus.

Kesha was unspayed.

When I called back an hour or so later to speak to my mother, her voice was small with guilt and grief. I imagined her curled up in bed, a quilt pulled up to her chin. My mother is already a tiny person, but this threatened to overwhelm her. I told my mother to be proud of the seven years Kesha had had with my family. Kesha was not an easy dog, but boy was she loved.

I called my brother next. He’d moved to Berkeley, CA in the last couple years, working as some kind of complicated salesman selling internet widgets in San Francisco. When he answered, there was no words. Just an unending, gasping, heaving sobbing. He was wailing. My brother was undone.

My parents cremated Kesha and spayed the black Chihuahua, Parker.

Although we are a family of animal lovers – we’re even vegetarians!—we had simply misunderstood the risks of not spaying and neutering. We were horrified by the overpopulation in the shelters. The reason they kept Kesha in the first place was to keep her out of the notoriously jam packed animal controls in the Inland Empire, CA.

From the perspective of overpopulation my parents were responsible, reasonable people. They had a tall fence and none of our dogs ever had puppies. When we’d found a male and a female lab in 2012, we’d paid to have them each neutered before donating $200 to send them to a specialty lab rescue in San Diego. We had no moral hang-ups, we weren’t lazy, we weren’t evil.

No one had ever said the word “pyometra” to us before.

It is 2018 and I am standing on the front porch of a man named Larry. He is telling me about his beloved dog, Libby. She is a sunny little yorkie and I can immediately tell this dog has never met a stranger. He tells me how she loves car rides and snuggling. He is asking me about grooming and flea preventative and how to keep Libby healthy.

I have many of these conversations. I stand on front porches and I tell pet parents about dog STDs, about mammary tumors, about reproductive cancers, and tumors blocking urinary tracts. I tell them about pyometra. I do not talk about overcrowding.

Larry considers my arguments. At first he is unsure, but eventually he agrees to let me spay Libby on June 22nd, 2018. Her surgery is a success, although the doctors find something unusual (although by no means rare): pyometra.

Libby is sent home with two extra antibiotics, both paid for by the APA Pet Partners program.

Libby is expected to have no further complications from her pyometra. She is expected to live a full and healthy life.

She is, as Kesha was, seven years old.

If our goal, as animal welfare advocates and rescuers, is to save more lives: we must shift our perspectives. Spaying and neutering has indirect effects on lives: it certainly contributes to overpopulation. But if you are looking for an argument that will help the pet in front of you – and sway the family of that pet – focus on health.

Rescue in Greenfield

By: | January 30, 2019

Details included in the story below were shared by Lynne Cox of Furry Hearts Rescue. Lynne and her team rescued the dogs who were then brought to the APA for medical care and a new start. This is their story.

Their lives started in a rural area North of Springfield in a small town called Greenfield. It was a rough beginning. On land situated out of view from the road, down a driveway, past overgrown weeds and debris, sat a run-down mobile home in various stages of decay. Also on the property were broken down kennels where dogs used to be kept for breeding, bits and pieces of the lives that used to live there and could not be saved remaining. Garbage and feces were everywhere. And on that property were six dogs struggling to survive – 3 adult males, 2 puppies, and 1 three-legged female who  had been used for breeding.

The owner of the property had been arrested on drug charges and would not be returning. By default, the only remaining caretaker was an elderly and disabled woman who attempted to provide food and water, but was limited in what she could do to care for them. So, four incredible women from Furry Hearts Rescue went to work trapping the dogs with the intention of bringing them to the APA for much needed medical care and a new start.

It was rainy and cold with only a camper shell serving as shelter for the dogs. They were also scared and uncertain of the strangers who appeared on their 20 acres of land in an attempt to help them. The women, who knew the extreme winter temperatures would be rolling in within a day or two, were patient and committed to doing whatever was necessary to bring each dog to safety. Arming themselves with crates, rotisserie chickens, hot dogs and bologna – the types of treats that help hungry dogs overcome fear of strangers – they settled in for the long haul.

It took hours – MANY hours – but at last they succeeded. Lynne Cox, the leader of this rescue effort explains, “it was a harrowing, tiring, dirty, physically rough, wonderful day in rescue.”

Today the dogs are safe and sound at the APA. They are exhausted and scared, but not broken. Sometimes hope and trust just take a little bit of time and patience in order to surface.

Frank, one of the male dogs, has several cuts and sores on his swollen feet and requires the most medical care. On one of his feet, the bone is exposed around his toes and he is unable to walk. For now he is on antibiotics and pain medication, and as soon as possible he will receive additional medical attention to address any other needs he may have. The compassionate and dedicated staff don’t mind carrying this sweet boy from place to place, which is the only way he can get outside to go to the bathroom at this point.

Sally, the three-legged female, is cautiously beginning to trust and is learning to walk on a leash. She is heartworm positive, so we will begin treating her for this before making her available for adoption. Her demeanor is calm and sweet, and we can tell she has a lot of love to give but is just unsure how to do that. It will come with time.

Beans and Jessie, the two puppies, are quite afraid of this unfamiliar place and spend a lot of time huddled together in the corner of their kennel. Our kind and gentle staff and volunteers take things a little more slowly with these two, helping them get more comfortable. Again, time and patience work wonders.

Reagan and Walker, the remaining two males, are both gentle giants who have spent much of the time here sleeping. When you are accustomed to fending for yourself and braving the elements of the outdoors, a nice, warm, comfy bed has a way of calling you to sleep as much as you can. Reagan is heartworm positive, as well, so after he gets some rest we will begin treatment.

Overall, they are good. They came with a few medical conditions that require attention, but we are equipped to treat those things, giving them a long, healthy life. Thanks to the determination of their rescuers and the support and care of the APA, these dogs have an incredible future ahead. We are honored to have collaborated with Furry Hearts Rescue to make the next chapter of these dogs’ lives a happy one. Stay tuned for updates.

A Mabel’s Way Home

By: | January 11, 2019

According to the ASPCA, 15% of pet households will experience a missing pet. Minimize the risk you will lose your furry friend forever by being proactive and spaying/neutering, microchipping, posting flyers, and dabbling in witchcraft.  

February 14th, 2018, I came home from work and greeted my pets. My border collie (Betty), my FIV+ black domestic shorthair (Dipper), my medium haired perfect calico (Mabel), and our sweet FIV+ foster (George).
Betty, Dipper, George.
No Mabel.

My cats are strictly indoors. Sometimes they bury themselves in my hoard of clothes or get accidentally locked in a closet. Mabel has a nearly silent meow – so the prospect that she was trapped somewhere in the apartment was not absurd. However, she was a known door dasher. Usually she’d slip past me and trot down the back steps, then wait in the yard to be captured.

Today, though, I hadn’t noticed her escape. To this day, I have no explanation for how Mabel went missing but after I’d torn apart all 1000 square feet of my apartment I had to face facts: Mabel was gone.

What follows is a 6 day ordeal where I tried absolutely anything and everything:

1)      Microchips

Mabel was not adopted, per se. While building a ramp in East St Louis for a previous nonprofit employer, I stumbled across a feral cat colony. The colony was mostly Siamese adult cats – and two kittens who I clocked to be between 5 and 7 months. This was generally beyond the age of taming but I was a young and inexperienced volunteer. When I trapped both kittens in the same trap (and when the colony caretaker explained she loved the adults and disliked the kittens), I took them home. (Note: this is basically never a good idea because cats are fickle creatures. It is impossible to guess if a kitten over 12 weeks will tame – let alone a pair of 6+ month old ferals).

I set Mabel & Dipper up in a crate in my kitchen. They hid in a box for a month.  And then something amazing happened – Dipper let me pet his head while he ate. He started to meow (generally, feral cats do not meow – this is a tactic to manipulate humans for more food). Mabel escaped the crate and didn’t hide. Cautiously, I let the two of them out of the kitchen crate.  Nearly immediately after release, Mabel demanded to be carried like a baby. Dipper decided he wanted endless kisses and pets. Anyway what I’m saying is I foster failed hard for these two.

The upshot: I microchipped both cats to me. Because they took a month to tame, both cats have notches in their left ears (a universal sign of community cats & sterilization).

When Mabel went missing, I contacted her chip company and was connected with a human nearly immediately. The operator was sympathetic. She said Mabel was officially flagged as missing in the system.

2)      Flyers

Known associate of mine and big Mabel fan, Megan, immediately designed and printed a million MISSING flyers. We disseminated them to the major cultural hubs: the Starbucks on Grand, the Starbucks on Kingshighway, the Starbucks off the 64, and every light post in Tower Grove South.

We posted a digital version of the flyer on our neighborhood Facebook page. My wide circle of cat rescue friends signal boosted Mabel’s missing face endlessly. We straight up spammed Next Door.

I knocked on doors and left flyers in my neighborhood. During one cold afternoon, a girl noticed me methodically visiting every door on a street. She was a dog walker and a member of the social media site, Reddit. She offered to help. She took one side of the street and boosted my flyer on the St Louis sub-Reddit. Hey Jessica: thanks for being a bro. Every person with eyes or an internet connection in Tower Grove knew Mabel was missing.

3)      Tips for Missing Cats

Some suggestions I received (and followed): leave Mabel’s litterbox outside, leave blankets outside, set a trap for her in your backyard. I upped the ante on this last suggestion: I set two traps in my backyard (courtesy of St Louis Feral Cat Outreach). I rigged a trap up in my dog’s house with a circular mp3 file of Mabel’s bonded brother, Dipper, meowing.

The Dipper clip was not difficult to get: he’d grown very needy since Mabel’s disappearance. He’d taken to wandering the halls of our small apartment, crying his heart out. I recorded one of these calls and borrowed a friend’s wireless speaker. I reasoned that if Mabel heard Dipper calling her, she might come home.

Friend and resident tech wizard, Katherine, lent me her NEST cam. I positioned it in my kitchen window and monitored it obsessively from my smartphone.

But my favorite suggestion was this: spend some time outside at 3am. Cats are more likely to come out when it’s dark and quiet. Don’t use the cat’s name, the suggestion continues, because cats hear their names and grow more afraid. They’ll think you’re drawing too much attention to them – and they will only hunker down more.

Every single night after Mabel went missing, I set an alarm for 3am. I am naturally adverse to winter clothes so I’d only pull on my puffy coat over my night dress and set up camp in my backyard. Bare legged and cell phone screen glowing bright in the winter air, I began to read. Most nights I landed on a website about history (r/AskHistorians).

It was, indeed, very quiet. It felt wrong to be making such a ruckus in my silent neighborhood but night after night, I picked a thread and projected into the darkness.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was a member of the most powerful dynasty in Europe….
Newton didn’t discover gravity, but unified a variety of other disparate issues, especially the movement of heavenly and earthly bodies, within a new systematic physics…
The Aztecs had different ways of welcoming a new child based on their gender…

Occasionally a figure or another would walk past me on the sidewalk, but no one ever bothered me. From a few yards away, Dipper’s recorded voice yowled on a loop.

4)      Less Orthodox Methods

When you cry for six days straight, funny things happen to your brain. I felt tired all the time – listless but also restless. Although a comparatively short trauma, six days of near constant, breathless worry left me loopy. I was dehydrated from tears. I spent hours in the bathtub, trying to soak my cells back to life. Lonely Dipper lay on my shoulder, his tail swishing in the water.

Although most people seemed to fall into the “look at night and shine your flashlight under cars to see if you can spot the reflection in her eyes” camp, there were some notable exceptions.

One friend told me about a pet psychic who reunited a friend and her dog. I got her contact info.

Another friend  and sometimes witch, Charlotte, suggested I purchase a spell from a new age witchcraft store. We visited the shop and I told the woman behind the counter, “I can’t find my cat.” She recommended a bottle of oil emblazoned with the words “Bring My Lost Love Back To Me.“
The liquid inside was bright pink and presumably a spell to bring back a wayward boyfriend. I hoped it could do something even more important: bring back my cat.

The package instructed I place the oil on anything that might serve as a beacon back home for Mabel. I smeared it on my hands, her cat tree, and the back corners of her missing posters. I gingerly swiped some on my phone case.

5)      End Game

On February 20th, I created a Facebook event to search for Mabel. Many friends and volunteers enthusiastically agreed to come out the following weekend and fan out in a grid search.

My friend and aforementioned feral expert, Terri, accompanied me to the Humane Society, the APA, and the city shelter. No Mabel – but we did leave flyers.

I came home and resolved to take a nap. I put on my pjs and my phone rang with an unknown caller. I was answering any strange number that rang through, thinking any minute now it would be someone who found Mabel. I’d received tips from a couple off Baden, a woman in the hill, and other places in the city. Although I knew these were all long shots (cats are most likely to be only a few blocks from where they were last seen), I diligently tracked each one down.
This tip was different.

“I posted about this on Facebook,” the woman, Alison, told me on the phone. “But the more I think about it, the more I really think I saw your cat just a few minutes ago. She had the notch in her ear. I saw her on Connecticut. I’m a dog walker so I couldn’t stop because I didn’t want the dogs to scare her off but I wanted you to know.”
Connecticut was only a block from me.
I did not change out of my pjs.

This woman had found my cat, I was sure of it.

I snatched a cat carrier and raced over to the address on Connecticut. I got out of my car and prowled around to the side of the house.

There, sitting in the bushes, was Mabel. At first I did not recognize her. She was too puffy and a different color than I remembered. Although Mabel is a very distinct cat, memory is a strange, slippery thing – and so is panic.

I noticed the ear notch. And the smudge on her forehead, like a smear of peanut butter. And her little white booties.
This was Mabel!
I began to hysterically cry.

Mabel took one look at me and bolted through a broken window and into the basement of the vacant home behind her. I climbed through the brush and peered down into the pitch black room. I called Terri, screaming incoherently.

“I can see her but I can’t get to her!” I shouted, finally, after Terri gave up trying to ascertain if I was perhaps in the process of being murdered.

“What tools do we need?” asked Terri, the pragmatist. A catch pole? Gloves? A ladder? The jaws of life?

I remembered the tip about a cat’s name causing fear. So: I didn’t say her name. “It’s me!” I pleaded to Mabel. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me!” I wailed. Mabel peaked her head through the basement window. Without hesitation I scruffed her and placed her in the carrier, panting. Mabel stared through the bars, shaking violently. I sat on my car’s bumper and blubbered. “I got her!” I said to Terri, and then I called Alison back. I cried so hard I could barely speak. Alison was crying too.
“I always keep an eye out,” she told me, “I was hoping I’d find her.”

I called my boyfriend, and then told my mother, and Megan, and all of Facebook. I took the world’s most unflattering selfie and, in the interest of full accuracy, posted it online with the caption “MABEL IS HOME.” I called the microchip number with the good news. The operator was thrilled. Mabel was officially marked found in the system.

Back home, Mabel slept in my lap for hours. When my boyfriend got home she jumped all over him, climbing his shoulders and then leaping into his lap, over and over. The other animals regarded her coolly. “Ah, there you are,” Dipper seemed to say.

Last year, the APA reports the following statistics about lost pets:


182 pets were returned to their families from the APA

Of those, 28 were found through APA postings on STL LOST PETS.

2 were returned to their owners when good Samaritans returned them to the APA – wearing tags.

23 families visited the shelter and found their lost pet waiting here, patiently, for them.

27 were reunited through the web in some other way than the missing pets page.

7, like Mabel, were returned through the power of Facebook.

25 owners called and described their pet – and were successfully reunited by phone.

39, the largest single category, were returned because the pets were microchipped.


If your pet goes missing, no one strategy is a guarantee to bring her back home. Microchip her now so that if the time ever comes, you are prepared.