Friday, July 02, 2010

Search and Rescue

My grandmother's dog of many years passed away a few weeks ago. She was a miniature schnauzer that was a perfect companion to my grandmother, Jackie. "Pepi" was actually the second Pepi- the first Pepi was a rescue mini schnauzer who I remember as being slightly nicer than the second Pepi, and was also a great fit for Jackie and my grandfather, Bert, who has since passed away. Bert had Alzheimer's, and when Pepi 1 was alive, was still in the earlier stages. Pepi 1 always dragged a leash, whether because Pepi 1 was quick moving or because Bert was slow moving, I don't know. Pepi 1 unfortunately did get out of the unfenced yard and get hit by a car on a nearby fast moving street. The version we now hear is that Pepi 1 was always trying to run away- this may also be true. Miniature Schnauzer rescue found Jackie and Bert another dog, who was named Pepi as well, or Pepi 2, or Pepi, too. My version of the story is that Bert, who was remembering very little, could remember this dog's name, if not that this was a different dog. Who knows if this is "true." All I know is that I credit my love for dogs to Bert, and Bert loved Pepi. Pepi 2 had all kinds of medical issues, and before she came home, J&B removed many of her teeth, mammary tumors, etc. Apparently, prior to rescue, she had been a retired show champion, but her breeder hadn't bother to socialize her much, or deal with her health problems.

That dog was perfect for my grandparents. She would jump on the couch and sit next to Bert who would pet her, and stare into space, or rest his eyes. A bittersweet story near the end has Bert walking the dog, only without the dog. No one could find Bert, because Pepi was still inside. He was walking an empty leash. But walking the dog was what he liked to do. After Bert passed away, Pepi was Jackie's friend and guardian. Jackie lives in a gorgeous, spacious condo, with an elevator that only opens to her unit, but Pepi would bark ferociously to tell her master when anyone was coming. Later, she'd also bark ferociously as we moved room to room: Jackie, that person is following us! Do you want her in your bedroom? Woof woof woof! Pepi also bit me, and muzzle punched me and threatened me multiple times. I did not tell Jackie this. I believe other people told her, but honestly, the dog had very few teeth, so she became "the only dog that's allowed to bite me." I mean, she was Jackie's friend. I could tolerate it. Pepi had a peculiar, but endearing habit of walking into Jackie's walk-in closet and walking in slow motion under Jackie's clothes. Very odd to watch.

The last six months, Jackie would send me emails asking what to do and when. But when Pepi was in the hospital, we sort of talked about how it would be clear, and one day it was. (This is an un-fun part of being the family dog guru. I don't like giving advice like this.) It became clear that Jackie needed another dog, soon. She felt guilty (I feel guilty thinking of After Mac- which is a time that will never come, so I don't' worry too much) about filling Pepi's shoes, but it was a necessity. So I was enlisted to help. Jackie lives in Los Angeles, so about three weeks ago, I went down for my first trip. Jackie has a lot of criteria, the kind ta ht rescuers (including me) have been known to joke about. When you're actually in that position, it's not a joke. She's older, lives in a condo (though I think that's a plus!), wants a dog under 10 pounds, would prefer a dog between 5 and 8 years, and does not want a chihuahua.

Our first stop, and only stop that time, was to the Lange Foundation. Jackie had donated money to them in the past, and has a friend who adopted a schnauzer, or schnauzer type from them. The facility seemed a little odd to me, but they are cramming as many adoptable animals into a small space as possible. Most of the cats live in large, shared, "catio" type spaces, and look very happy. The dogs are caged in rooms that run through many tiny rooms, and it's easy to get lost. We visited with three small dogs. The visiting area, such as it was, was a tiny corridor with a couch. None of the dogs seemed to have been in the area before, and cound't really settle. The first dog was a chihuahua mix thing, who was shaking in the stereotypical chihuahua way, a major turnoff for Jackie. I convinced her to look at chihuahuas, because that's what we have in California- chihuahua mixes. Small things that people call chihuahuas, but are really some kind of small, nondescript dogs. The second dog we met was perfect. She was a Maltese mix, about 8 pounds, and supposedly 10 years old. Jackie was okay with the age, although I'm not sure she was really 10. She had the beginning of cataracts, and had had some mammary tumors removed, but she was spry and lively and very affectionate. We took her on a short walk, and Jackie was able to handle her. When the dog got ahead, she would stop, check in with Jackie, and stop and wait. We checked out one more dog, a bichon mix. He was not social at all. It was like we were not in the room.

We made a fatal mistake though, and I will never know if they gave the perfect dog to someone else because of it, or if she really had an adoption pending. A woman, who turned out to be the vice president of the organization, overheard Jackie saying something about not wanting a clingy dog. Jackie is, and Pepi was, very independent. Pepi knew when to be around, but is not a lap dog, like Mac, for example, who needs to be touching me at all times. The perfect dog seemed to be a much more social dog, who wanted to be in the room at all times. When we went to go discuss the perfect dog, all of a sudden she had separation anxiety and needed someone who wanted to pet her and touch her at every moment. Jackie is almost never out of her house, and was already talking about having the dog on her lap at the computer. She didn't want the dog in the bed with her at night, but that was about it. The lady, the vice president, saw the word "crate" on the application that we filled out and got that tone in her voice that I know perfectly well, since I've been known to use it when talking to potential adopters. Oh, this dog will NOT want to be in a crate. Jackie explained that she doesn't shut the door on the crate, but that it's an option.

I'm thinking to myself, Jackie is the perfect elderly adopter. She's gone about 3 hours a week. She has a dog walker, and other people who will help her out. She doesn't even have a yard to cause problems, she has a small balcony that she hasn't decided if she will use yet, but if she does, it's closed off with plexiglass, so the dog can't escape and tumble to the ground. She has told me she knows new dogs will pee in the house, and she hasn't reupholstered the couch since Pepi, becuase she knows new dog might make some kind of mess, as well. She donated all of Pepi's stuff so that a new dog can have her own stuff. She's willing to take an older dog with health problems. And we're getting "the voice." Jackie didn't get the dog, but didn't stop talking about her for a week. She consoled herself that the dog got a good home, which I'm sure she did. I was bitter.

I tried for the next two weeks to get ahold of the Amanda Foundation. I later read their Yelp reviews and found that I was not alone in being terribly frustrated by them. I gave them a chance, though, because I know that rescues are overburdened and understaffed. I'm a shelter worker, after all. And if we got there, the rewards could be worth it. But we didn't get there. I called three times before I got a call back, and when I did, I had to wade through a long speech before I could put out what I was trying to do, before I became human in the eyes of the person on the other end of the phone. She told me to send her an email, but I never got a response. I called two more times, and left specific times when I would be in town, since the kennel is appointment only, but it was no use. I never heard back. Not a great way to find homes for adoptable animals.

When I came back to LA this week, we went to Lange on Wednesday morning. Mostly the same dogs, and some new chihuahua mixes. We looked at one older miniature pinscher who was the right size and age. She was partially blind, which I didn't really think would matter, but when I went to pick her up, she went to bite me multiple times. I vetoed that dog. Whatever dog Jackie has needs to be able to be handled by multiple people, and if I can't touch her, it's a bad sign. The other dog we saw was five years old but acted three. He would have been perfect for a family, and was probably sturdy enough for kids, which is what Jackie said: he needs kids! A nicer woman at Lange steered us down the street to Friends of Animals. A volunteer greeted us with mistrust when we told her we had been recommended by Lange- I don't know if she thought they had turned us down, or what. But we talked to the director, Martha, an elderly woman who asked us to fill out an application and sat us down and had her kennel person show us some dogs. Martha knew she mostly had younger dogs and bigger dogs, but brought some out. She also only had chihuahuas. There was one dog who she thought was only one year old, but seemed much too calm for that, who I thought was perfect. But it was a chihuahua thing, and Jackie really doesn't want a chihuahua. I liked Martha, and she liked us, I think, or played along. But no dog for us.

The next day, we stopped by the Santa Monica city shelter, as I had heard that it was smaller, more accessible, and had small dogs. It did, and it was, but they made no effort to adopt animals out, at all. The woman at the front desk didn't get off the phone to talk to us. There were no signs of where the adoptable animals were. The kennels were being cleaned, so we walked around the outside, but there was no signage on the cages. An animal care attendant came out to talk to us about the dogs, but he had nothing nice to say about any of the dogs. At one point, he told me one of the dogs was "going to meet his maker" later today. He told me that they had "wasted 20,000 dollars" on a new femur for a great pit bull mix that was hanging out in a central courtyard area. I never did learn how much an adoption cost or what the process was. The only dog we wanted to visit was spoken for. We left. I was very disappointed that a progressive city like Santa Monica had such a crappy program. They gave us a handout with all the big public shelters in the area, but that wasn't what we were looking for.

I left, and Jackie still doesn't have a dog. She was disheartened by the end of the day, and I don't blame her. I am too. She has a couple of local leads- even a woman who finds dogs for people as a profession- what a niche! I will go back to help her if she needs me to.

But I learned what it's like to be on the other side. I have moved slowly but surely in my time as a shelter worker towards believing that many rescues and shelters are too restrictive in their adoption process, which turns people off to rescuing. All of the rescues that we visited required a home inspection, which is fine, but unnecessary. I found myself bristling a little at that, though Jackie was ok with it. I wouldn't want someone coming to my house, and my house wouldn't pass with its crappy fence. But my dog isn't unattended in my yard. Would a rescue worker believe that, or care? Would I be placed on a do not adopt list because of that? Are rescue workers rolling their eyes at Jackie's specific demands? Are they denying her because of her age or because she won't be walking the dog, even though the dog will be walked 3 times a day? I know I have thought that before. Jackie's dog will be well cared for if it outlives her, though Jackie is in very good health and is looking at older dogs. The process was frustrating, especially the groups who didn't return phone calls. Many groups in LA only show their dogs at mobile adoptions, and I can't come on weekends, since I am working my own animal job then. Also, I don't know that mobiles are good venues to find your perfect dog, and certainly not the best venue for Jackie, who does better in a one-on-one, less crowded setting than a mall or a farmer's market.

We'll find Jackie the perfect dog, who will have the perfect life, with trips to the groomer and the vet, and a nightly treat placed in the crate with an open door.


Luisa said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and thorough report on the challenges of finding a rescue dog for an older adopter.

Got nuthin, advice-wise, but I think you're a peach for going to so much trouble, and I hope Jackie finds her perfect dog soon.

KHB said...

You are doing a wonderful thing. And have I mentioned that you are a wonderful family dog expert?

thb said...

Well documented (as always) and much appreciated by all, especially J...