Thursday, December 17, 2015

Shelter Medicine Meets Private Practitioner. Finding An Answer with An Agenda

Gertie, rescued by JVC from HCHS.
Someone left her with her daughter at the shelter.
She was adopted by us after 5 months of no one being interested in her.

She now has a family who adore her.. she is a wonderful soul who is loved.

There are a few things that just light me up.. you know, in the sense of infuriate me. I cannot help it. It might be genetic, or a middle aged crisis with my lifes' To-Do list getting longer instead of shorter? Call it what you want. I am a determined obsessed person. It  is what it is.

Such is the premise for a Facebook post I read the other day from my good friend who just happens to have become the new Executive Director of our local Humane Society, (Harford County Humane Society, HCHS).

She posted this...

"Just did the order to save essentially every animal that comes through our doors, we'd have to adopt out (or send to rescue) two animals per hour, every hour that we're open, every day that we're open. That's assuming they're all adoptable, which they aren't, but you know. Hmmmm..."

The minute I read this I called her.. We needed to talk.

My first question was.. "Where are all of these animals coming from?"

Here are the numbers. About 4,000 animals enter the HCHS every year. About three-quarters of these are cats. Many are strays. The cats have it bad.. only about 3% of cats get reclaimed, versus about 50% of dogs. The world is not a kind place for them.

There is a lot of blame to spread around. It starts with spaying and neutering. Any way that we can reduce the overall number of unwanted pets is a big step in the right direction. This is compounded by the fact that in our very rural farm area many people consider a cat equivalent to a squirrel. No care is provided to most of them just based on the sheer volume (in no small part due to their incredible prolific reproductive abilities). Their numbers are staggering and, hence, their worth is reduced to pestilence in many a farmers eye. The shelter flood gate doors are further inundated by our disposable perception of pet care, an irresponsible society and the perception of pet care being "too costly" when problems arise.

Animals enter the Humane Society by one of two methods. As a stray pet, or an owner surrender. A stray/missing pet has only a few things going for them. Should they be found and caught they are provided a safe warm place to lodge, are fed, and provided the most basic of medical care when brought into the shelter. Our shelter is what we call "open admission." They are contracted to take the pets no one wants or provide a place for the public to come and claim them. But, due to the inherent nature of their designation they also have a space issue. They have to keep space open for the next found animal. The holding period is about  5 days and this allows the public a place to go to see if their missing pet has been found. The best way to insure that your pet is reunited with you is not to hope that you check the shelter on the 5 days they might possibly be there. The best way is to have your pet microchipped. It is a cause I am so steadfastly committed to that for 5 years I gave microchips away for free to all of our clients. It cost us about $3,000 a year to do.  We now provide them at cost at $10 a chip.

When a found pet shows up at our clinic the first thing we do is check for a microchip. I know that if that pet doesn't have one that it is very unlikely to be a JVC patient. Providing chips at cost and having every team member at the practice see first hand how beneficial they are has our patients at about 95% microchip compliance. Can you imagine if 95% of Harford Counties pets were microchipped? That stray reclaim number wouldn't be 3 % for cats and 50% for dogs any longer would it?

Found on the side of the road, Ruby was adopted by a friend of JVC.
I own a veterinary clinic in this county. I wondered, "are any of these surrenders mine?" I feel responsible to the pets of my community. Is that what makes me an aberrant practice owner? Why aren't other vet practices pissed off that the community shelter has to euthanize healthy animals due to lack of space?

I also run a company that provides free pet healthcare advice and much of our users are looking for low, or no cost, help. What if some of these people need help and can't find it affordably? Where do those pets go?

A local rescue kitty makes a new friend.
So today I pooled my clinic's resources; our Hospital Administrator, Diedra, who is always the girl with the big unshakable smile who epitomizes Pollyanna in situ, Dr. Hensler, our new vet who has time to meet new clients and a list of skills to start to set in motion, along with my friend at Vet Billing Solutions who offers third party payment options to those of us who don't have the next pet disaster paycheck snugly tucked away in our safety deposit box. Collectively we are determined to put a serious dent in that "2 adoptions per hour" statistic. I am DETERMINED!

So, here is what Jarrettsville Vet is going to do to help get our community shelter to a 100 percent adoption rate.

1. Continue to provide microchips at cost. That is $10 to our clients. We will be working on  a program to provide these at the same cost to anyone who needs them. Yes! they are that important!

2. Continue to participate in the Harford County Sterilization Program (HASP). This provides the spays and neuters at no cost to those who adopt from the HCHS.

3. Provide multiple tiers of assistance to those in need. If we cannot provide the care our patients need through the clients wallet, we take CareCredit, or Vet Billing Solutions. If these don't work we offer help through our Good Samaritan Fund. There has to be a way to provide care to people who want to keep their pet but need help when disaster strikes.

4. Pawbly. Pawbly provides help and resources. Along with a huge community of pet loving people who can provide support, guidance, advice, and help. Pawbly is something I created because I believe that there is a huge wealth of information available to people simply by connecting those who know with those who need help. It is free. If you want to help a pet join us. Share your experience, or just provide support to those in need.

5. Offer to help a HCHS pet in need. How can you do this? Volunteer your time. Pledge your support, help with fundraisers, walk dogs, groom and socialize cats, or take care of your own pet so that they don't become lost, or too sick for you to be able to financially manage. Get pet insurance (ask me anytime on Pawbly what my thoughts on this are). An ounce of prevention is worth a pound (or ton) of cure. See your vet yearly, use the preventatives we recommend, maintain a good diet and exercise plan, stay healthy, avoid us vets the rest of the year (we understand you have better  things to do together). Dunkin and Gertie (just to name two of the many came from here).


6. Social media campaigns and shares. Help those in need with your online presence. We always have a Facebook post for a pet in need. Share it and help us get the word out.

7. Build a community that cares, by being a part of a caring community. Build, foster, and maintain healthy relationships within the pet loving community. We all need each other. Did you know that there are pet food kitchens in our area to donate food for those pets in need so they can stay with their families? Learn more about the Pet Pantry of Lancaster County, Pa. here.

8. Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Don't turn your back on any pet in need. Every kitten, stray cat, and lost/found dog that comes through our doors is cared for and assisted. Everyone can do a little to help.

My crew..
Joe takes the pups for a drive,,
Charleston (HCHS rescue), Jekyll (JVC surrender) and Cora (rescue)

9. Don't buy a pet unless you are SURE it is from a reputable breeder. We encourage adoption from the shelter, and know that you will find every specialty breed, and every kind of size, shape, and all with unconditional immeasurable love to give. Every pet is capable and wants to be loved, it is not dependent on age, breed, or health status. Think about an older pet, cats especially are in need of a second chance. My pup Charleston came from there. My husband will tell you that he is the most devoted love-bug ever!

Jax, a HCHS rescue.
Adopted by Shelly one of our technicians

10. Participate in TNR. With the help of many rescues and veterinarians we can, and have, put a huge dent in the number of stray cats just by spaying/neutering and returning them to their colony. TNR saves lives. If you would like more information please visit Alley Cat Allies here.

We still have so much to do.

I know what Jarrettsville can continue to do. I also know that I have work to do with the shelter staff. We had a whole conversation about "cost saving measures" for pets in the shelter who need expensive care. Is it cheaper and easier to amputate a leg versus fix a fracture or deglove injury? Yes, sadly. But, I am not going to amputate a leg without trying to fix it first. I am not going to provide care that is NOT in the best interest of the pet because it is cheaper. I understand that the shelter has to manage tight resources, and yes, a three legged dog is better than a euthanized dog, BUT, I was also told that 3 legged dogs, one-eyed cats are "more adoptable" because people feel sorry for them. I cannot even begin to discuss this. I spent many years at sea stopping in pathetically poor ports of call where broken, disfigured children begged at the end of the gangway. It worked, but I was always left to feel as if I was a patron of an unknowing freak side show act.

If you don't want to believe in miracles you aren't going to see them.

SO, do I believe that every pet is adoptable.. yes. I do. Do I believe that Harford County can save every single one? yes, I have to. What is the alternative for that dog or cat who never had a human to love them?

The hardest cases are the first ones we should be helping. They are the ones that you will remember forever. They are the miracles that you let happen because you just tried.

I couldn't do what the shelter staff does day in and day out. I am not sure that I could remain hopeful in humanity. I couldn't make space and sacrifice a pet for another pet. And yet I don't want to live in a place like so much of the rest of the world where stray pets struggle for survival on the streets suffering from disease, putting other pets and people at risk of disease. So here I am trying to make this problem a miracle simply based on will and a little bit of skill. I am DETERMINED..

If you would like to help resolve this problem please share your thoughts.

If you would like to help us please stop by Jarrettsville Veterinary Center and ask us how this is going?

I can also be found on Twitter @FreePetAdvice and on

Related blogs;

Dunkin. The Story Of The Littlest Life And All That Matters.

Limbs Are Accessories, Until It's Yours. Why we should try to fix before we decide it's cheaper to amputate.

Fiji's Failing Family, and Our First Christmas. Saving a dog from euthanasia seconds before he was killed.

Rabies, Your Pets And Your Life On the Line. How having a bit of faith and not taking the easy way out let a miracle happen.

TNR. Tired and No Relief.

Things are changing at our local Humane Society in no small part to a dedicated group of people who are also DETERMINED to improve the lives of our communities animals. My friend wanted me to add that the shelter also receives 'animals by abandonment (i.e. tied to our gate, left in a box at our door, etc), and via animal control seizure (hoarding, neglect, abuse, dog fighting, etc.). Those animals can be with us for months or even years while their cases go through the system. While they are with us we have to provide full veterinary care and we are rarely, if ever, reimbursed for that when/if the person is found guilty and ultimately the animals are turned over to us, and never if the person is found innocent. They also in the past were never sent into foster care (if they could be) so they took up space in the shelter, resulting in more killing. We are now sending these animals into foster to stop that."


  1. Thank you for your integrated efforts to help the shelter/overpopulation crisis in your community with this multi-faceted approach. This is an inspiration and I hope will be shared far and wide and implemented by many more community veterinarians. The affordable care and payment options are especially crucial.

  2. Here's my POV (handed down from my folks, just another life lesson about 'doing right').
    Our farm cats are an integral part of our operation - they provide round the clock vermin control for just food & water, a cozy tackroom to slumber away winter boredom & the occasionaly Temptations treats.
    Harley & Blitz keep my barn & hayshed clean & safe by killing those rodents; I have had zero (let me say that again) ZERO loss of feed to vermin in all the years that we've farmed.
    When I tip up the pallets in the barn feedroom to clean up the shake before loading in the next 80 bales from the shed, I have not once found a mouse nest or evidence of infestation.
    I find it aggravating when some fool tells me that they are overun with cats @ their place, & I generally tell them straight out that I have NEVER had a problem because I spend all of maybe $200 to have my cats fixed when they were kittens. I also give my barn cats dewormers which cost me approximately $4. a year, & drop about $100 to feed them. That's pretty cheap hired hands in my books.
    Plus, not much beats a purring kitty.

    1. A true testament to a devoted mom and the kids who help you take care of the rest of the family! Thank you for sharing this. Send my best to your "hired hands"
      And.. I completely agree with you that NOTHING beats a purring cat.

  3. I'm sorry, I got so caught up that I forgot to say "Thank You" for all that you do, for your passion, & for your absolute dedication to the critters. You are a wonderful example for your staff & other animal care professionals.

    Both of our cats, one of our dogs, & one of my horses came from people who could not afford to care for them anymore. Our other dog (a shepherd) we adopted from the humane society in the city where she, her puppies (& only 3 other dogs) had been flown from a reservation up north (where their solution for population control is not spay & neuter but a twice yearly dog shoot) because the police up there thought she'd be adoptable because she is gorgeous.
    Gorgeous yes, but high energy & so she spent 7 months in the shelter waiting for the right home; every day of the 8 years that we've had her we've been SO thankful. She too is an integral part of our operation - the self-designated protector from coyotes, wolves & black bears (all are populous here), not to mention squirrel & muskrat control -- never mind that she will also kill & eat the odd hare or bird (hunting is just part of her nature).
    Before we found the Saint we attempted to adopt from a small town shelter 10 minutes from our place (the city is over an hour) but they declined to allow us to adopt because we don't have a fenced yard. On a farm.
    We consider it a privilege to love these creatures, all of whom earn their keep in one way or another, even the Min Pin who is mostly comic relief.

    My sister has done pitbull rescue, rehab, & rehoming for many years & incurring many thousands in cost that she bears alone. Our parents taught us that animals are like children, not disposable but a lifetime commitment. Thank God.

    1. Thank you!
      And thank you for reading and always leaving me a note on your thoughts.

  4. Many people are unaware of the extreme over population of animals in our country and do not take the necessary steps to neuter/spay their animals. It is truly endearing to hear of your hard work to take care of those animals who are not lucky enough to have a warm home to come back to. Very inspiring, thank you.