Childhood Experiments in Midwifery

By: | February 26, 2019

At roughly 5 or 6, my parents made the catastrophic decision to add a baby to our family. His name ended up being Jackson and he’s actually pretty funny so all things considered I guess that worked out. But, I must confess, at the time this choice struck me as pure calamity.

To lessen the blow my parents allowed me to have what I wanted absolutely most on this earth: one kitten. We already had a pet dog – my mom’s beloved elderly sheltie mix (a pet she got in law school). But this kitten would be mine.

We got the kitten, as many people do, from a friend. My mom’s longtime friend had a ranch – and ranches tend to have outdoor kittens. As we know, 80% of kittens in shelters come from outdoor cats – and my new kitten was no different.

Sorry, I mean my kittens were no different.

My mom’s friend presented me with an adorable 7 or so week old tortie kitten and I named her Kira. But, well, Kira had to have a friend – and I had my eye on her fluffy black sister.

“Well,” said my mother, “Go ahead and call your dad, but you have to ask him.”

Of course I got my second kitten.

We drove home with them that night and made what I now know was a hilariously bad move – we let the kitten immediately loose in the bedroom. These formerly outdoor kittens, now removed from their mama and their siblings, hid under the bed for a week. I was desperate to snuggle them and laid nearly constantly next to my parents’ bed, my face pressed sideways into the carpet. “Pleeeease, I love you,” I whined at them.

“Eh, give them time,” suggested my mother.

Eventually, though, as kittens do, they came around. Marissa and Kira grew to be both snuggly and aloof – that is, basically your average cat. I adored them.

We had an ample backyard and it was roughly the year 1998 so my cats were indoor/outdoor. Nowadays my cats are strictly indoor (please see Mabel’s escapade for more information), but at the time this was our normal.

You probably see where this is going.

One day Kira and Marissa seemed to disappear. They weren’t on the porch or in my room or even their favorite spot on top of the fridge. My parents and I looked for them and finally found them in the garage, nestled in a box of forgotten old sweaters.

Both nursing kittens.

Kira had 5, Marissa 2. They were impossibly cute and I was thrilled. Less thrilling, I’ll admit, was the fact that Marissa had birthed a stillborn kitten. I remember still this kitten, rigid, by herself in another box.

I know now that pregnancy is hard on mamas. Birth even more so. And kittens are so impossibly fragile. That day my mother and I gently wrapped the kitten in a washcloth and buried her in a box under a tree. I painted a rock with chalk as a headstone.

Ultimately, Kira and Marissa were good mamas and all 7 kittens thrived. We dodged upper respiratory infections, parasites, and other common kittenhood illnesses.

We were lucky. Only one kitten injured himself in his time at our house (either from playing too hard or hitting his head on a cabinet). Because 6 year olds are literal, I named him Hurt Head. My parents paid for a vet and were given antibiotics.

We rehomed each of these kittens to friends and strangers.

Unaltered, unfortunately.

It would be easy to see this as a failing on the fault of my parents – easy and wrong. There were no high volume or low cost spay and neuter clinics in my community in 1998. Adoption was not the common, accessible choice it is now in 2019 at the APA.

Through advances and inclusions great and small we rewrite this narrative.

In 2019 here’s how the story goes:

My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat. She has a few, actually, so she contacts her local animal welfare agency. They are so excited to hear from her. They explain TNR and she borrows a trap. Since this is a free service she TNRs 15 cats on her property.

My mom’s friend tells her about this welfare agency. We adopt a fully vetted kitten from this organization. Maybe I even get 2.

Hey, maybe I get 3.

Well, that’s one way. But what if it went like this?

My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat and she gives birth. We take 2 of her kittens. Weeks or months or year later a woman knocks on our door. She explains she’s the outreach coordinator for a local nonprofit and would we like to fix our cats? She explains the health benefits. My parents are easily convinced. Frankly they were never opposed.

Another:

My mom’s friend has an outdoor barn cat and she gives birth. We take 2 kittens, they grow up to be my perfect angel adult cats, and one day we discover they have a litter – 7 between them. One of the kittens is stillborn and we mourn her.

My parents are unsure what to do next so they contact an organization, maybe even the APA.

The APA advises that they’ll take the kittens when they’re weaned. My parents have questions about how to care for kittens – especially when one we call Hurt Head bonks his noggin and gets an infected sore. They bring the kitten to the APA and the APA helps them with what to do.

The kittens all go to the APA when they’re ready. They’re fixed and chipped and vaccinated. In my capacity as the outreach coordinator, I bend space-time and I spay Marissa and Kira.

My parents like kitten midwifing so much they connect with the APA’s foster coordinator, Ashton, and continue to care for neonates. Eventually, we TNR the barn cats from the beginning of the story.

The difference in these stories isn’t my parents. My parents are the same people – vegetarian animal loving lunatics – in every story. The difference is accessibility and approachability. The difference is outreach and compassion. The difference is you, dear reader, supporting places like the APA and people in our community.

If you or someone you love (four legs or two!) needs more information about adopting, fostering, or free spay/neuter packages, call us at the APA. We’re open 7 days a week and we’d love to hear from you, whatever your story is.

Fostering for the APA – A Testimonial

By: | February 15, 2019

Fostering for the APA is great! The staff are so responsive to any need you have and the Facebook page is an excellent way to connect with other people who are fostering. Getting approved to foster was easy and they provide a no pressure way to request the animals you want but also take a break when you need it.

It’s so rewarding to get a tiny kitten in, be able to play with it and cuddle it, then send it off to be placed with a loving forever home. I would never have the space to provide homes to all those wonderful animals but I do have the space to allow them to grow into the next step. Fostering for the APA means that more animals can be saved!

– Susan Depue, APA foster volunteer

We work hard to make fostering easy. As a foster volunteer, you will work with a dedicated foster coordinator to get everything you need to be successful — food, pet supplies, information and resources, as well as support. And, when the pets you are fostering are ready for adoption, you bring them back to the APA and we take care of that part – you don’t have to find them homes like many other places require (of course, we suspect many of your family and friends will want to adopt them when they see how great they are).

To learn more about fostering, please contact us at foster@apamo.org.

Fostering for the APA – A Testimonial

By: | February 8, 2019

The following testimonial is from APA foster volunteer, Susan Dohr. In 2018, we helped nearly 4,000 pets find homes. This would not have been possible without volunteers like Susan. If you are interested in becoming a foster volunteer, please contact us at foster@apamo.org.

I love fostering for the APA !  The APA has a very high adoption rate with very caring and dedicated staff who do their very best to get adoptable animals into loving forever homes.  My teenage daughter and I started fostering for the APA a couple years ago, because we love animals and we wanted to help make a difference in homeless animals’ lives.  Fosters play an early and important role in getting animals ready for adoption. Animals who are pregnant, too young, sick, recovering from an injury, or need some socialization benefit from a low stress home setting , where they can have their babies, grow and thrive, heal from an illness or injury, or simply learn to be less fearful.  This is where fosters come in!  it’s so rewarding  in itself to know you’re helping these animals get to the point of being able to be adopted into forever homes.  Fosters also help make space available for new animals to be taken in by the APA, saving even more lives!  If you’ve ever thought about fostering for an animal shelter, I highly recommend APA.  They take care of any supplies you might need and they provide the medical care for the fosters in your care. They will work around your schedule to make it convenient for you to come in if your foster animal needs vaccinations or anything. Also, our foster coordinator, Ashton, is always available for any questions or concerns we might have about our fosters. I won’t say it’s always easy to say goodbye to fosters once the time comes that they are ready for adoption, as we do get attached to them, but I remember to think of the bigger picture, the fact that new animals are always coming in, who might need some time in foster care and I want to be available for them.  I want to be able to help as many animals as possible,  for years to come. Fostering for the APA has been a great experience for us!

– Susan Dohr, APA foster volunteer

Foster volunteers are critical to the work we do at the APA Adoption Center. Foster volunteers help the most vulnerable pets – puppies, kittens and animals recovering from illness or injury – get a healthy start or second chance by providing them with love and care while they grow or recover.

We work hard to make fostering easy. As a foster volunteer, you will work with a dedicated foster coordinator to get everything you need to be successful — food, pet supplies, information and resources, as well as support. And, when the pets you are fostering are ready for adoption, you bring them back to the APA and we take care of that part – you don’t have to find them homes like many other places require (of course, we suspect many of your family and friends will want to adopt them when they see how great they are).

To learn more about fostering, please contact us at foster@apamo.org.

Fostering for the APA – A Testimonial

By: | February 1, 2019

The following testimonial is from APA foster volunteer, Debra Reed. In 2018, we helped nearly 4,000 pets find homes. This would not have been possible without volunteers like Debra. If you are interested in becoming a foster volunteer, please contact us at foster@apamo.org.

After retiring I knew my first endeavor was to get a dog. I adopted a puppy named Daisy at an adoption event and she became my constant companion. However, if I needed to run errands or attend a function, she suffered from separation anxiety. I decided some canine companionship may help calm her while I was away. Rather than get another dog of my own, I volunteered to become a foster at the APA.

I brought home a couple of pups I was confident Daisy would be comfortable with when I left home. The rewards of having the pups to mentor significantly eased Daisy’s anxiety. It also helped me feel so much better! Besides the benefits it brought to Daisy, there is nothing better than puppy breath morning, noon and night!

The unconditional love I receive from my those innocent babies provides both utmost in joy and comic relief! I recommend to any animal lover fostering with the APA. I have cared for 16 puppies and two adult dogs going through heartworm treatment. All the supplies you need to be a foster are taken care of by APA – food, crates, bowls, you name it. All you need is tender loving care.

Daisy now has two APA sisters-Lily, a puppy she has so much fun with and Poppy, a shy and timid girl that stole our hearts. Because my experience with the foster program was so positive, I am now looking into the  APA Petreach Program-where I can take my dogs to visit seniors citizens and children.

Thanks APA Foster Program-Best Year of my Life!!

– Debra  Reed, APA foster volunteer

Foster volunteers are critical to the work we do at the APA Adoption Center. Foster volunteers help the most vulnerable pets – puppies, kittens and animals recovering from illness or injury – get a healthy start or second chance by providing them with love and care while they grow or recover. 

We work hard to make fostering easy. As a foster volunteer, you will work with a dedicated foster coordinator to get everything you need to be successful — food, pet supplies, information and resources, as well as support. And, when the pets you are fostering are ready for adoption, you bring them back to the APA and we take care of that part – you don’t have to find them homes like many other places require (of course, we suspect many of your family and friends will want to adopt them when they see how great they are).

To learn more about fostering, please contact us at foster@apamo.org.

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.