Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Partnering Shelters Making a Difference

People often ask "why don't shelters work together?"

It's not always easy to answer this question because those on the outside of the industry may not understand all the details that are inside the industry that sometimes prevent organizations from doing the obvious...working together.

There is no standardization of how an animal shelter or rescue is operated. Iowa's laws stipulate some basic care (i.e. food, shelter, rabies vaccination) which is minimal care by most reputable organization's standards. The intake of the animal, it's treatment, temperament testing, number of hours confined, cleaning protocol, medical care, type of food, daily walks, playtime, socialization is pretty much left up to the individual(s) who handle the daily operations of the organization. The philosophies towards animals, and their care, often differ causing organizations to find it difficult to share what is obvious to most...a common goal of saving lives! Then add the politics inside the industry, with many egos, and it becomes just like everything else in life...humans making something simple...more difficult. Only in this costs animals their lives!

That's why RVAS works so hard to work with others. Now you would think that all of those animal lovers who give their time to the animal welfare industry care about animals, right? Simply not so. To some, it's their job...8:00 am - 5:00 pm. To others, it's their life work. Without some form of standardization in the industry humans will continue to get in the way of each other!

But not today! Today was a great example of what CAN happen when people work together.

A dog named Ginger, who is obviously loved dearly by her owners, gave them quite a scare last evening, when she became one of 10 million lost (or stolen) pets in America. While several cars passed her by as she trotted down the highway, there was one that didn't. Afraid that Ginger would get hit by a car, as she walked along a country highway's edge in the dark, she pulled over, and called the dog to her. Frightened and uncertain, Ginger was torn between going towards the stranger for safety, or running to safety.

But the unconditional love of dogs proved to save her life this dark night. She reluctantly allowed the woman, Leigh, to rescue her. Placing her in the back of her car, she took her on home. It was late, it was dark, and she wasn't sure what to do next...but she knew that she couldn't leave this dog along side the highway by herself. And her owner is glad she made the decision she did!

On Wednesday morning Leigh sent an email to RVAS asking for their help. She wanted to get the dog to safety, if possible returned to the owner, but if not, at least to a no-kill place where Ginger would have a second chance at life.

RVAS quickly responded sending Leigh some quick tips to help assess the lost dog. Getting her scanned for a chip to find her owner is always a first option. Sending a photo with details immediately so that RVAS could begin networking. Calling the local authorities where the dog was found and placing a FOUND REPORT trying to see if there is a LOST report that matches. Even posting it on Iowa Pet Alert!  was just a few of the suggestions given to her. Leigh did them all. Once RVAS received the photo, we immediately began networking it through emails and posted it to Facebook. We also sent out the all call to have it tweeted, all with the hopes that someone would see her and either claim her, or know her owner!

At the same time, a frantic owner was calling her local police and searching in the area for her beloved canine companion. With no initial sighting she continued her search by contacting H.E.A.R.T., a fairly close shelter to report her missing dog. Amy, Executive Director of H.E.A.R.T. asked the owner to send her a picture with information on the dog. Then, like RVAS volunteers did, Amy sat down to post the missing dog, with the same reunite pet and owner.

As she fired up her computer, loaded up facebook, right before her on her wall, appeared a photo of a dog posted by RVAS that had been FOUND. This dog looked just like the photo she had. She compared the photos, her's being past, the one on the RVAS wall being present, and was pretty certain it was the same dog. She contacted RVAS immediately. And when RVAS Director Linda and Amy began comparing notes, they both were pretty certain, that they had a match.

Within one hour, Ginger's owner found relief, as good citizen Leigh contacted her, shared specifics of the dog, and determined that the dog, indeed was probably "Ginger", the missing canine companion. With photo ID, vet records in hand, and proof of ownership, Ginger will find her way back home. Frantic owner, Lisa will be forever grateful to the one person who stopped...and to the two animal welfare organizations, who despite operating individually, took a little "extra" out of their day to make a match.

So Amy contacted the owner, while Linda contacted Ginger's finder. And through guidance, arrangements were made to meet so the dog could be returned to it's owner. Both parties felt a sigh of relief and we have no doubt that Ginger will be happy to go back home, too!

I asked Amy once, what she says when people ask her, "Why don't organizations work together!". Her response was short and to the point: "The reputable ones, DO!".

Our answer is in agreement with Amy's. After all, We Have Living Proof...There is a Better Way of saving lives!

Remember those organizations who do work together, who go that extra mile to make things happen, who put animal welfare first...who put aside all differences for the betterment of the animal. Remember, to say "thank you" by offering your time, your resources, your services or in-kind donations. It could be your animal someday...wouldn't you want the same?

Statistics on lost and stolen pets can be found here

Tips to help you with a Lost and/or Found animal.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Heart of Helping

We received a contribution with a note inside. We wanted to share the message with you. We felt it is not only to RVAS, but to every individual, group and/or organization that rescues animals.

Dear Raccoon Valley,

Words of gratitude can not be expressed enough for taking the kittens that the dog saved. We have never met, nor had I ever heard of your organization until the other day when I read the kitten story on the internet. I'm sure, like many others, it touched my heart with both grief and relief. Incredibly saddened for the cruelty of our society, and the loss of life, and relief that two were found and saved, and didn't die equally horrific deaths. That is where my letter should end.

I was sickened that our society are not a species advanced enough to refrain from this form of cruelty  and horrified that our laws are not tough enough for those who do. That our own state laws are so vague that even if the person/persons who did it were caught, the punishment would never fit the crime. When is the punishment going to fit the crime?

My day was full of activities with work, to taking my kids to their after school activities, and by the time I got off of work, got home, got everyone fed, it was time to drop my girls off at dance class and take our boy to Karate. Hours later I would return home with crew in hand and help them with their homework and by then it would be time to go bed. In short, my day was full. As mortified as I was when I initially read it, my day was so full that I never thought twice about the horrific story I read a few hours earlier. I was simply too busy!

I lied awake that evening, with images flashing through my mind of the horror these tiny helpless creatures must have felt. Hoping and praying that the wee ones that didn't make it felt no pain or suffering. Then turning to anger to our society as a the person/persons who would perform such an act of cruelty, to the lawmakers who waste our time and money on trivial non-life threatening subjects rather than worthy causes that would prevent animal cruelty. To disgust of how can any organization turn this woman or the kittens, both pleading for help...away???!

So there I bed....exhausted, and the story kept going through my head over and over again. I sat up in bed, and went downstairs and this is what poured out of my soul.

"I read the story this morning. I was moved by it. I was angered by it. I was disgusted by it. Then I went about my day and returned home thankful that someone else took care of it.

And I did nothing.

I didn't contribute. I didn't say thank you. I didn't voice my disgust or anger to anyone. I didn't share the story. I didn't comment on a single news article. I didn't post it on any social network. I didn't tweet or text it. I didn't even cry.

I did nothing. I went about my day as if it never happened. Perhaps it was too awful of a thought to carry around all day. Perhaps I was counting on others to handle it. Perhaps, I was just too busy to give it a second thought.

So I'm writing this letter to apologize. I'm sorry that I'm not a person that can handle the horrific details of animal rescue and be a noble rescuer of the innocent. But I'm grateful to those of you who do!

I'm sorry that I have become so desensitized by the bad news of our society, that while this story bothered me a great took me until the end of the day for it to really sink in, the magnitude of the cruelty by members of our society. I'm so grateful that the dog's owner didn't follow in my footsteps on that tragic day, but instead stopped, listened and stepped forward to help these precious lives immediately.

I'm sorry that I profess to be an animal lover, and yet have done little for the animals or those who try to help them, except to be a responsible pet owner myself. But that ends now!

I can start by sending you this. A small contribution to say thank you. And a promise, that I will never look the other way again. That I will find a way each month to help an animal in need, somewhere, somehow, large or small, so that in the future, when I profess my love for animals...I'm living up to my word.

You have set an example of what an animal lover should be. To love, to care for, to save, even when it's the hardest. Even when it's not convenient. Even when we don't want to. No excuses, just action. I feel very blessed to have come across the kitten story. As my heart was touched deeply by tragedy and triumph of the story, my soul was reached by those of you who never gave up and whom I've never met. It's by your example I wish to follow...not only to help animals...but to support those who, like myself, want to make the world a better place.

And for that, I am grateful!"

Newfounded Humbled Supporter

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Many of you may be aware of the recent story about the BAG KITTENS that went viral this past week! If you missed the story just click here! It has been a whirlwind for the past week, with RVAS flooded with emails and telephone calls from well wishers and tender hearted people thanking us for our work! We were humbled by the outpour and we made sure through the chaos that we "paid it forward" to other rescues as Skipper and Tipper's story happens everyday across this country in rescues and shelters.

Local Station WHO TV was searching for a "feel good" story. And we just happened to have one on our website. The "Bag Kittens" story is one that is heartwrenching and heartwarming, with the media focusing on the hero, Reagan, a yellow lab who despite her desire to rip everything to shreds, chose to gently carry a feed bag from the highway to her owner's home, saving two 3 week old kittens lives! It may sound unbelievable, and we must admit we had a lot of questions up front.

But after researching the facts, we discovered that it really was possible. So we told the story. After all, a DOG's discovery, a woman's persistence and a rescue's determination, brought us all together and two little lives were saved because of it. That's pretty cool...or at least from our point of view it was!

But with all good things that happen in this world, there are always those who have to find the negative in something. Well here it is...we knew it would come!

Today on the Animal Rescue League's Facebook Page a poster commented about information printed in one of the many online news media articles. Read the Facebook Page below.

The Poster wants the ARL to set the record straight. They are obviously upset at someone for what they perceive as false information. Or is it? Well, we'd be happy to help set the record straight. After all it is our story.

Here are the facts:
  • The original article on our website states: "...pleas for help were unanswered or ignored by several local animal rescue organizations."  It does NOT say or state how many shelters/rescues or the geographical location. Perhaps something to remember is that a woman was sitting at her day job on little or no sleep after spending the evening up all night frantically trying to save two little lives. And she was worried about them, because she knew they would starve to death if she didn't get them immediate help. And the gruesome site she saw when she reached into that bag the night prior, was still etched in her mind. Perhaps she was a bit frustrated because there wasn't immediate help for her. Can you blame her? We sure can't...especially when lives are hanging in the balance. In fact, we applaud her diligence and persistence to find someone who would help her.
  • Second, Can an organization that takes in over 18,000+ animals a year really remember every call? We doubt that the ARL can honestly remember if they did or did not offer to help this woman some form of assistance, that's assuming that they were one of the places she called.  But that doesn't really matter. They weren't mentioned by name or geographical location.
  • Third: It's very hard to believe that the ARL was "not aware" of this story that swept the internet on CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, HUFFINGTON POST, LIFE WITH DOGS, and numerous other local papers and such, especially after it went viral. Most of know that the ARL is usually the prime focus of the media. So is this perhaps a disgruntled supporter looking for something negative because someone else received media attention? We have to admit we love the ARL's response of: " Interesting....hopefully the reporter just got the facts wrong vs. being told that incorrect statement. Thanks for passing it along!" Are we in third grade here? I mean really, thanks for planting THAT seed ARL facebook guru!
  • Fourth: If you compare all the articles, there seems to be an error in every one of them. For example, Reagan, is a "female" not a male. That she is an indoor dog in Des Moines, Iowa, when her location isn't anywhere near that. And our favorite is the one local online paper that led their story with "Raccoon Valley, Iowa" as the location! We were thrilled with that one...having our own town!
Despite the points mentioned above, perhaps the most disheartening of them all is that someone felt the need to "jump to the defense" of the ARL based on something they read, taking it as gospel,  rather than going to the source of the article and checking the facts. Had they just gone to our website, and read the original article, they undoubtedly would have had their concerns addressed immediately and would have never posted some accusatory comment drawing attention away from the story's content, about 5 kittens victimized by a horrendous act of cruelty and turning the focus on the ARL's credibility as an animal welfare organization.

And had the ARL not banned RVAS from commenting on their wall back in August 2010 when we asked one (yes, just ONE) question about how many cats were captured, destroyed and distributed during the Story City Hoarding Case, we wouldn't have had to take yet another 30 minutes of our day blogging a response to set the record straight to someone who, it appears, would rather create problems, rather than be part of the solutions!

When people ask, why organizations don't just work together? Because sometimes, people just get in the way. In the meantime, it is important to note that the ARL and RVAS recently worked together in saving a cat's least they called us...And for that, we are grateful!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

RESCUING the Rescuer

Recent events by yet another Iowa Animal Welfare organization is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of those who rescue properly and in compliance with state laws.

While hoarding can be the results of mental illness, most of us are not trained psychologists, therefore, reaction to animal neglect and abuse is often direct, especially when the abuse, neglect or cruelty costs an animal it's life.

Recently posted on our facebook page was a "note" entitled Rescuing the Rescuer. 

We are reposting that here for our non-facebook followers and supporters. PLEASE, if you recognize any of these signs in a family member, friend, co-worker contact authorities immediately. Lives could be saved from one simple anonymous action.

A dog is found along the roadside. A kitten is pulled out of a sewer. A beloved companion can no longer be cared for and is turned into a shelter. It only gets a certain number of days to find a new home before it is euthanized.

This happens everyday inside the world of the animal welfare industry. And somewhere each day someone is moved by a situation just like this and steps forward to save a life. Maybe they volunteer to provide socialization, maybe for transport, maybe even provide a temporary home until a permanent one can be found. Whatever touched their heart or reached into their soul that day has drawn them into the world of animal welfare. Most people have no idea what lies behind the facade of rescuing an animal.

An Animal Rescuer is a person who rescues something from harm or danger. Their mission should be to save the life. Unfotunately sometimes that missiion stops after removing the animal from it's current situation and placing it into another. Whether that situation will save it's life or not, will depend on the experience and the ethics of that rescuer.

More and more, individuals are calling themselves "animal rescuers". And more and more of these individuals are finding themselves on the other side of the law. Good hearted, well intended animal lovers who set out to help animals are now in positions of being charged with neglect and abuse, even cruelty. These actions come in many forms, and aren't always about "beaten", "starved" or "abandoned" animals, but sometimes about animals in the homes of professed rescuers who have become or are becoming emotionally unbalanced to the degree that bad judgment overshadows good. And because these people are our friends, our neighbors, our peers, we become blind to the signs and symptoms of what is known as a Rescue Hoarder. The term "hoarder" can be deceptive. Most media coverage shows "hoarders" as people living in deplorable conditions, sickly or dead animals, and lot's of em. But that's just ONE phase of hoarding. There are signs of mental instability long before a hoarder ever gets to the above description.

Rescuing an animal is much more than getting it out of a "bad" situation and into a better one. It requires the person to be knowledgable about animal behavior, have some education on veterinary care; to be able to provide for the animal physically, mentally and financially, and to take full responsibility for its care and welfare until it is placed in the hands of a permanent caretaker or euthanized. It also means that the rescuer has to be aware of their own limitations and experience working with animals so they do not take on more than they can properly care for.

A good rescuer will also comply by state laws. They will know and understand the laws of their state, and work within the system to protect the welfare of the animal even if they don't agree with them. They will conduct themselves in a professional manner, and they will understand and be able to recognize an animal's health and mental needs. They will be able to provide at all times quality mental health care; food, water, housing, medical care, proper housing segregation and they will understand the behavior of the species.

Sometimes a rescuer will become so emotionally involved they become delusional about their own actions. Signs of a rescue hoarder can be blatant or very subtle. The actions of a rescuer hoarder can detoriate over a long period of time causing a change in not only behavior but often times their personality. Subtle signs of a rescue hoarder can be:
  • an increase in intake/outflow of the rescued animals viewing them as numbers rather than lives.
  • increased injuries or death to the animals in the rescuers care
  • denial of responsiblity for those injuries or death that happen in the rescuers care
  • misconceptions about animal animal behavior
  • deterioation of the animal's physical condition
  • an inability to accept responsibility of their own actions that caused  injury or death to the animal
  • deterioration of the rescuer and/or animals living conditions
  • inability to let go of the animal either through adoptions or euthanasia
  • becoming withdrawn from activities remaining inside the house or; becomimg increasingly vocal about injuries or deaths that happen in their care, (both are extreme signs of a rescue hoarder)
More often than not a rescuer hoarder will become so emotionally attached to the animals, feeling an overwhelming responsibility to save lives that they can no longer differentiate between a happy and healthy animal versus one who is in pain and/or suffering.

So who rescues the rescuer?

YOU do.

It is our responsibility as individuals to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves. Whether the person is a friend, a family member, a co-worker or a neighbor, if you recognize any of the above signs or symptoms with someone you know who has animals or rescues animals, you need to take action!

The first step is to contact an authority. You will be asked numerous questions, but in most cases you can remain anonymous. Your concerns will prompt an investigation which will then determine if the person is in compliance with state laws or not, and whether or not they should remain as a rescuer. This does not mean your friend or family member will be hauled off to jail. But it does mean they will receive the proper help they need and the animals will not die because you, as an observer or participant chose to do nothing.

Whether it's a friend or family member, it's better to intervene in the early stages of hoarding to prevent prosecution for neglect, cruelty and abuse later on. Good hearts and well intentions do not necessarily mean that one is qualified to be in animal rescue. And every state requires a license of some sort to act as a rescuer, which also provides inspections to make certain that animals are being properly cared for at all times!

If you know of someone, or see the above signs and symptoms in someone you know, please take action immediately, before it's too late, for both the animal and the human!

To express concern or file a complaint visit or call:
Iowa Department of Agricultural and Land Stewardship

Not sure if what you are seeing IS a problem? Contact RVAS and we can help you determine that, and what your next steps should be...all to save lives!

UPDATE: Story City Cat Massacre

There is an update on the Story County Cat Hoarding situation that took place last year. Many readers may remember the debachle that took place on this so-called rescue of an estimated 50+ some cats handled by the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. (Follow the original investigation here...)

They continue to remove themselves from any involvement professing they were only there to "assist" but as we stated one year ago, our investigation with local authorities clearly prove that they were called upon, and accepted, to lead the rescue efforts.

Recap: Family members turned to local authorities for assistance with a relative who had acquired a large number of cats. Living conditions were less than favorable and law enforcement contacted the county shelter for assistance. They declined to lead the efforts because they recognized their facility was not equipped to handle hoarding cases, whereas, a large number of animals may come in at one time, needing immediate veterinary care. Funding can be an issue, proper care and housing. (Note: We support and appreciate those organizations that recognize their own limitations). The county shelter did offer to house a few and offered any other assistance the lead rescue would need. A local veterinarian was called upon to coordinate medical care needs and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa was contacted to lead the rescue efforts.

Outcome: Since no final numbers have ever been provided by either the vet or rescue "in charge" of the organizations, facts we do have are that all but 12 cats were euthanized deemed "unhealthy" by the so-called "experts". Those twelve were taken by Dr. Lisa Deppe, DVM of Jewell Animal Hospital who also operates as a state licensed animal shelter. Those so called "unhealthy" felines were all saved, and while a couple did receive surgery (one had it's eye removed), the majority of them had upper respiratory infection (URI), which is very common in felines, especially those who reside outside. This infection is treatable by antibiotics and is not a "life-threatening" illness. They have since then found new homes and all are living happily ever after.

Dr. Deppe's dedication to animals goes above and beyond veterinary care. She was contacted by the ARL of Iowa to assist with the rescue efforts. She single-handedly lined up shelters and rescues "ready to receive". As a licensed veterinarian she was more than capable of determining whether a life could be treated and saved, and if not, she was equally qualified to offer them a humane ending. She was refused by her peers to offer any medical or rescue assistance whatsoever and stood by helplessly watching cat after cat be slated as "unsavable". She quickly recognized that the situation was not a 'rescue' at all, but in fact a removal project. This created quite a stir among those in the industry dedicated to saving lives, whereas, Dr. Deppe boldly stood up and expressed her disappointment in those "alleged" leaders of the animal welfare system who she had entrusted and respected. She stated her viewpoint in her Veterinary Rescuer blog whereas, animal advocates began asking a lot of questions. Dr. Deppe's bold decision to speak out had its repercussions, too. A scathing letter from a friend of the vet caused Dr. Deppe to publicly apologize for mentioning the vet's name in her blog. She never meant to throw any peer under the bus, but was appalled by the behavior and condescending manner in which these peers treated her the day of the rescue. A peace-seeking vet with an extraordinary heart for the welfare of animals, Dr. Deppe's dedication to animals continues to this day...helping rescues and individuals save lives despite those who disagree.  Although animal advocates stepped forth to support Dr. Deppe's courage of going against the norm of what lives "can and should" be saved, there is still that haunting image of the faces she watched sitting in a cage not knowing this was the last time they would ever see the light of day.

To this day, no one has been able to get an exact NUMBER of cats that were rescued, euthanized and/or rescued by either the Story City Chief of Police, the veterinarian placed in charge of medical care, or the ARL of Iowa. ARL's claim of rescuing 12 cats is under suspicion by those involved. We know 12 cats were released to Dr. Deppe who have been treated and are now living in wonderful homes. The media posted that the ARL saved 12 cats, but the ARL has not produced any further information on those twelve lives, (adopted or euthanized) nor would they answer any of the numerous telephone calls they received discussing the twelve's whereabouts. To this date, no one has stepped forward and professed they have "adopted" these so-called felines either.

Several people contacted RVAS and those other rescues who were waiting to receive these precious lives stating conflicting information that the ARL had given them via their inquiries. One caller said the ARL said they didn't have any cats from the Story City situation...another caller said the ARL is not disclosing any information at this time. Needless to say, many are skeptic that the ARL did anything other than stand by and watch numerous cats killed...doing nothing.

UPDATE: A Realtor contacted RVAS. Hired to sell the house, upon arrival to the property, they noticed the door slightly ajar. Posted on the door was the note "cat left inside". Apparently the "removal" team didn't complete their task leaving one cat to fend for itself. It's one year later. They remembered the story that was posted regarding this situation and contacted RVAS for assistance. We knew exactly who to call!

Dr. Deppe immediately stepped up, set a trap, and Mr. Kitty was neutered, vaccinated and relocated to a safe haven, where he would be able to live out the remainder of his kitty life. Feral by all definition, Mr. Kitty was taken to an acreage where the family members were trained in feral cat relocation. If not done properly, cats relocated can stray or be run out by a colony resident feline and left to fend for itself.

Alley Cat Allies, a national organization dedicated to education and awareness of the growing feral cat population in our country has set forth an excellent guideline to follow for the relocation and care of feral cats. Even more so, they help feline lovers identify a "true" feral, from a scared stray, and how to properly care for cat colonies. This is far more humane than a massive massacre of innocent lives who fall victim in the human hands of individual mental illness or non-compliant traditional animal welfare organizations.

Kudos to everyone who diligently worked to save the lives they were able to save despite resistance from those who profess to be animal welfare organizations. And a special thanks to the Realtor, who requested to remain anonymous, for her love for animals went above her daily work...and helped save a life...properly!

In short, not ALL animal welfare organizations support "animal welfare". On the other hand, places like RVAS, Jewell Animal Hospital, H.E.A.R.T., Agape Fosters, Animal Resource Foundation, Iowa Humane Alliance, just to name a few, are animal welfare organizations dedicated to saving lives through education, awareness, proper adoption screening, quality veterinary care, networking and advocate programs such as spay/neuter, FIV & Heartworm rescuing, educational classes and much, much more. These are all state-licensed organizations operating in compliance, networking together, to bring a sense of community to the animal welfare industry that is apparently missing in our state, as evident by the actions of those in charge of the Story City Hoarding Case.

Help save lives. Support those who support animal welfare!