Monday, April 26, 2010

Enough complaining about Animal Control

It’s said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. In Kern County you can easily add one more: complaining about Kern County Animal Control, which is done so often and with such ferocity that it might qualify as a professional sport.

Residents complain that KCAC is too slow to respond to safety issues such as loose dogs, getting homeless dogs off of the street or dealing with pets being attacked by other animals.

Rescuers complain that the system is too difficult for rescues to get the animals they want and that they aren’t given enough notice to coordinate a rescue plan.

There are complaints when the adoptable animals section looks too full, or not full enough. There are complaints if someone sees an animal that appears to have a runny nose or inflamed eyes, and complaints when animals are euthanized due to illness. People complain that aren’t enough resources for low-cost spay and neuter, then when options are introduced they complain that it’s too far to drive/held on the wrong day/still not free.

Enough already.

Changing the situation requires two things: more volunteers or more money; preferably both. Kern County is as strapped financially as any other county in California and will continue to carve more money out of the already dreadfully under-funded KCAC budget, leaving even less available for necessary services. Not that the budget deficit is what got us here, since even during the “boom” years of 2003-2008 no one was rushing to give KCAC an extra boost to help service the additional tens of thousands of folks who moved into the area.

You want more from Animal Control? Then do your part:
  • Get your animals licensed. I’m tired of hearing from people who complain about response times, short staffing and bad hours of operation who can’t be bothered to license their pets. Licensing, besides helping bring home the lost, provides critically needed revenue for Animal Control, revenue that can be used to provide the very services residents complain they aren’t getting. Even cat owners can get a $5 Identification Tag through KCAC. So do it, already.
  • Spay and neuter your pets. Animal Control is not the reason there are so many homeless animals on the street --- we are. If there’s anything about companion animals that people in Kern County agree on, it’s that there are far too many of them. Folks, KCAC didn’t bring them into this world. That’s squarely on the shoulders of the community, and we’re the only ones who can reduce that number though spaying and neutering.
  • Volunteer. Or donate. Or both. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. If you have time, give some of it. Being at the Animal Control facility too much for you? Volunteer through Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation and help with off-site or fundraising events. Throw an extra bottle of bleach into your cart while it’s on sale and give it to the shelter. Donate gently used clothing to Kern Humane Society’s Thrift Store, which provides vouchers for spaying and neutering through the sale of their goods. Skip a trip to the coffee shop and give that $5 to Friends instead.
  • Find a way to make your peace with a tax to help Animal Control. In all the years I’ve been here, there hasn’t been one time when Animal Control proposed changing their fees that people haven’t responded as though we were asking you to give up your remote controls. I still dream of the day that every household gets a $5 per year increase on their property taxes to pay for Animal Control services. In just a couple of years we’d have the money to build a first-rate low-cost spay/neuter clinic with just that one little change. We get what we pay for, or don’t pay for, as the case may be, but we can’t have it both ways. We either have to pony up for the services we want or stop whining about not having them.
I’m not saying that KCAC doesn’t have its issues. It does. But we community members aren’t exactly innocent, either. Before grabbing those pitchforks and torches, let’s take a good, long peek to make sure that our own house is in order before calling to bring down theirs.

I know I still have a couple of weeds to pull. How about you?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

When preaching to the choir, try adjusting the volume

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again --- I love Facebook.

Not only do I have the opportunity to connect with friends and family, I also have the chance to connect with people whom I’ve never met face to face, but share a bond with due to our mutual interest in certain topics, whether it is cooking, music, sustainable farming or critters. On Facebook, there’s no such thing as being the only chick in the room who knows what TNR is. Or a CAFO. Whatever it is that you’re into, there’s a group (or twenty groups) that are equally interested in the same subject.

Being the junkie-of-all-things-pawed that I am, once on Facebook I set forth to “fan” (or like, or high-five, or chest bump, or whatever the action is called by the time this piece posts) a whole passel of companion animal-related sites. Living in an area where companion-animal issues seem to be a decade or so behind many other parts of the country, I figured this would be a great way to gain some insight into what other communities do to address homeless pets, feral cats and fundraising challenges.

So why is it that just a few months after joining up with dozens of groups I find myself hiding some of them from my feed --- or even removing myself from their fan base?

Chalk it up to abuse fatigue. You see, I came to “fan” all of these pages because I’m already deeply, seriously, passionately aware of the heinous acts that individuals subject animals to. I know that every day someone, somewhere, is committing some reprehensible act against one of our non-verbal brethren. And I’d bet that every other person who joined up in support of your Facebook page is aware of it, too.

Yet day after day, some groups seem to all but revel in posting the latest “Look what these horrible people did to this helpless animal!” There have been a few stories when it appeared that several groups on Facebook were in a race to see who could get the abuse story out fastest (especially if there’s video involved) and use the tawdriest headline to induce clicks, and I can’t help but wonder why.

We’re already in the choir, folks, and while I’d never presume to speak for everyone, horrific images and stomach-turning video aren’t really what I look forward to when I log onto Facebook first thing in the morning. I know what goes on out in the big world. I signed up to be a fan of your site/group/cause because I want to share in finding solutions. If I want outrage and disgust with my morning coffee I can type "animal abuse" into Google's search engine and take it from there.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t post items like that on this blog site. Yeah, perhaps I’d get the “big numbers” I’ve always dreamed of having, but if those are the sorts of posts one has to make to get those numbers, I’ll pass.

And I’ll likely pass by your site, too.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Feral Cat Symposium set

The first ever symposium regarding feral cats in Kern County has been set. On May 22, cat-friendly groups from around the greater Bakersfield area will gather at the Kern Agricultural Pavilion to discuss ways to deal with feral cats in our area.

Maybe you're someone who puts out a little food for the neighborhood strays. Perhaps you've noticed that neighbors moved some time ago, but their cats are still wandering around the neighborhood. Or you've got a few feline friends hanging around your workplace. The symposium is the perfect place to learn about Trap-Neuter-Release and how it can help keep two cats from becoming twenty.

The keynote speaker at the event will be Shelly Kotter, coordinator of the Focus on Felines program at nationally-known Best Friends Animals Society.

Registration for the event is taking place now, so if you care about the homeless cats of Kern County make plans to attend this first-ever event.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pet Nutrition workshop coming to Bakersfield

Self Serve Pet Spa is hosting a pet nutrition workshop in Bakersfield on May 16. The featured speaker is Sabine Contreras, a self-described Canine Care & Nutrition Consultant and host of The Dog Food Project. The workshop will feature topics including learning to read pet food labels, supplementation, feeding for special needs pets and a question and answer session.

I'm fascinated to see how this workshop works out. In the time I've been in Kern County there have been few seminars offered specifically for pet owners. We've had a few folks come through like Bill Bruce, who spoke to the Animal Control Commission regarding the success of Calgary's pet overpopulation issues, but for the most part there aren't many open-to-the-public speaking engagements where pet owners can get information that's relevant to their daily lives.

Should this prove to be a success it could mark the beginning of a whole host of educational topics that can be brought to the pet-owning residents of Kern County. I'd love to see seminars on everything from pet acupuncture to disaster preparedness to rethinking vaccination schedules --- and everything in between. This city should be more than large enough to host events of interest to pet owners. Pet Nutrition is a great place to start.

Space is limited at the Pet Nutrition workshop, so if you're interested you need to sign up soon. Head over to Self Serve Pet Spa for details. Let's get this event sold out soon!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Post-surgery Darby

Well, the pup made it home today after his knee surgery. Fortunately, the surgery itself wasn't as intensive as the veterinarian feared it might be, so if all goes well he should be back rockin' the yard on all fours in the next couple of weeks.

He hasn't chosen to eat yet, which is distressing to me, but since there's no recorded record of a dog choosing to starve to death, I know he'll get there.

Pre-surgery Darby.

Franken-puppy leg.
Gazing out the back door, happy to be home.
Good to have the doodlebug home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

No such thing as a cheap pet

When St. Bosco was four, we learned firsthand the issues with getting a dog from a backyard breeder when, after several months (and several hundred dollars) of testing the dermatologist determined that he suffered from an incurable auto-immune disorder. He remained a strong and central part of our family for six more years until he was taken by cancer just shy of his tenth birthday, almost exactly as the veterinarian had predicted.

Following a brief, but deeply heartfelt grieving period we were ready to give it another go with another dog. No more fluffy purebreds for us --- this time we were going to our local shelter to adopt the good ol’ American mixed breed, known for their steadfastness of health and hodgepodge of traits. It didn’t take long to find our next forever dog in Darby. One look at his foppy self in his kennel run and we were hooked (look at that face --- we were goners).

Naturally, three days after bringing him home, he tested positive for parvo. We buckled down, followed the vet’s instructions to the letter and six weeks later once again had a healthy dog, ready for neutering.

Oops --- another surprise. Darby turned out to be cryptorchid. So much for the cheap, easy neuter. His condition made it a longer, more complicated surgery as the vet had to search around for the undescended testicle. Naturally, this translates to a higher cost, but one we were willing to pay. Finally, with both parvo and his neutering out of the way, we could look forward to a long, relatively unremarkable life with our doodlebug.

Until this week. What began a year or so ago as a little gimping along after a hard day of play slowly evolved into seeing a dog who appeared in distress far more often than someone not quite five years old should be. With his lush, lovely backyard and a hallway that doubles as a canine runway for chasing the resident felines, it was painful for us to now see him limping almost as often as he was walking. We went to the orthopedist and received the bad news: Darby has a bad knee that most definitely needs surgery for him to have a relatively pain-free future.

I suppose we aren’t that much different from other pet-parents in the mix of emotions we felt; guilt, for not getting him in sooner; relief, that it isn’t anything worse than a knee, like a back or hip issue; stress over all that we will need to do post-surgery to keep him calm and allow his leg to fully heal; and sadness that we aren’t able to explain to him just what will be happening and why it is important to do this for his long-term health and happiness.

Throughout all of our discussions, and there have been many over the past week, there was one item that was barely worth mentioning --- the cost of treatment. We may have quibbled over the benefits of an exercise pen versus a crate for post-op recovery or how thick his recovery bed should be for maximum comfort, but there was no disagreement on spending our hard-earned funds on taking care of the little guy. Beyond a brief chat of what we would put off doing on the home improvement front for another year until the tax-return man comes rolling through again, talking about the cost of his health was pointless.

Pets cost money. Period.

Even if you take care of all of the little things like vaccinations, altering, food, shelter, toys and treats, stuff comes up. They come down with a hereditary disease. They fall and break something, or eat something they shouldn’t. They fall or get injured in some seemingly improbably way. They get into a scrap with someone and end up on the losing side. Not all that different from having kids.

When we choose to bring companion animals into our homes and lives we have to accept that there will be times when they will unexpectedly cost more than we anticipated. That’s the lesson here. All the pre-planning in the world won’t change the fact that stuff happens, so plan to have a plan for when it does.

After all, we’re all they’ve got.

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