Watch Tip Classic: Identification is Essential

Posted on January 29th, 2012 by Anna Nirva

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Watch for collars that are too loose or too tight, and that don’t have ID tags. Pets deserve better from their families. A roaming pet without identification is at high risk for being picked up as a stray and might even be euthanized. Roaming pets can travel long distances. Reasonably-priced ID tags are available nearly everywhere. Speak with the owners or just do it anonymously. You may save a life.

Why Not Provide Tags for Adoptions?

Shelters and rescues often provide microchips for adopted pets, but they are not visible to human eyes; scanners are needed. The specific microchip technology used can be a factor in linking pets to owners as well. And even if a microchip is identified, the owner information can be out of date, causing a whole new set of hoops for the current owner. Collar tags have some important advantages: they are immediately visible by neighbors, assuming the pet allows their approach. A roaming pet can be returned home without aid of animal control. Responsible pet owners provide BOTH microchips and tags.

Could the animal welfare community provide tags at the point of adoption? Remember the most likely time for newly adopted pets to escape is right after adoption. A common refrain is “I was going to get my tags on Monday” but the dog or cat escaped on Saturday soon after arriving at the new home. Think about the pets: they don’t know they have been adopted! They believe that they are in the wrong place and must get back to where they were.

War Hero Dog Died for Lack of a Collar and Tags

Target’s family didn’t put a collar and tag on her or get a microchip implanted. They didn’t prevent her from escaping from her yard. And the neighbor who found Target without wearing any identification of course had no idea who she was, so called the pound. She was picked up by animal control and her photo was posted on the internet.

Her family found her photo but did not check the web site to learn the weekend hours that the pound was open. They came on Monday to pick her up. At the pound earlier that morning, a careless employee was performing her routine euthanasia duties and picked Target by mistake, not following the organization’s process. “Oops.”

Who was Target? Ask Oprah Winfrey, whose show Target appeared on. In Afghanistan, three stray dogs prevented a suicide bomber from detonating a bomb in the middle of a military barracks, and the bomb went off harmlessly near the perimeter. One of the dogs died from injuries suffered from the blast. The other two dogs, later named Target and Rufus, were brought to America by a charity to live out their lives in the land of plenty, where they have been widely celebrated for their roles in preventing a tragedy. Read more here.

Do you see one mindless assumption after another here? These are shameful mistakes that manifest a careless, uninformed regard for animal life by Target’s family and the pound. If she had been wearing a collar with a phone number, the neighbor who found her running loose would have had her back home quickly. Target should be alive today—no excuses.

Watch Tip: Veterinary Financial Assistance Funds

Posted on January 22nd, 2012 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoThe economy can affect ill or injured companion animals too. If you are lucky enough to be financially secure, think about those who have lost their jobs and can’t pay for vet treatments for their sick or injured pets as a result. They need assistance but some large financial assistance non-profits are struggling now too because giving is down. Some have closed! Please consider donating.

Economic Hardship results in Euthanasia for Treatable but Ill Companion Animals

If a family must choose between keeping a roof overhead and paying for life-saving surgery for their beloved companion animal, that animal often ends up surrendered to pounds and shelters now. Sometimes the companion animals have only minor ailments but their treatment cost is beyond reach. Shelters and pounds experience the same economic constraints, as we are all afloat in the same economic sea; they euthanize those pets to save money for their taxpayers. And so dogs and cats die when they should have lived.

If you are a compassionate person, this double tragedy of pet loss and family guilt is hard to contemplate.  And you could do something about it: you could support those national organizations that provide financial assistance to families with ill or injured pets. Keep them going! Add a few to your annual giving list. Some have closed their doors permanently, such as Feline Outreach, or temporarily, such as American Animal Hospital Association Foundation’s Helping Pets Fund.

Your local shelter, rescue, SPCA or humane society might provide a special fund for ill or injured homeless animals in their care as well; please inquire.

Check out this list of life-saving financial assistance organizations for pets:

In alphabetical order, with text taken from their web sites:

The Brown Dog Foundation:
Bridging the gap between the cost of medical care and saving the family pet, in memory of a special Chocolate Lab, like Sunbear was, named Chocolate Chip. The Donate link takes you to PayPal.

Cats in Crisis:
Cats in Crisis Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping cats and kittens with special medical needs receive the veterinary treatment they need to live happy, healthy lives. Their donation page provides a good variety of options.

Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program:
We are a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Charity Organization that provides emergency financial assistance to cat and kitten guardians who are unable to afford veterinary services to save their companion when life-threatening illness or injury strikes. Their “Please Help Us” page provides both PayPal and ChipIn options.

In Memory of Magic:
Since 1998, IMOM has funded non-routine veterinary care for more than 1800 companion animals. They have a a strong desire and determination to help people help pets, founded in memory of Magic, a special black cat. See the handy ChipIn widget that makes giving easy on the home page.

The Pet Fund:
The Pet Fund is a registered 501(c) 3 nonprofit association that provides financial assistance to owners of domestic animals who need veterinary care. This group provides many ideas for giving on their web site.

RedRover Relief Fund (Formerly UAN Lifeline Grants):
The RedRover Relief program provides funding to Good Samaritans, animal rescuers and pet owners to help them care for animals in life-threatening situations. The donation page is slow to open but is secure.

The Humane Society of the United States maintains a comprehensive list at this link that includes funding for specific types of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

The needs are so great just now. Please do pick a fund to support and share this post with others with means to do the same. Even small gifts matter to the lives of those animals and families being helped; you can imagine how uplifting it feels to know that faraway animal lovers care and understand how desperately they want to help their pet to live.

Watch Tip: Products Not Tested on Animals

Posted on January 15th, 2012 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoBe a compassionate shopper; this is a New Year’s resolution you can keep. Purchase products for your home and personal care (including cosmetics) that are not tested on animals, so that you do not support animal testing laboratories and the companies that contract them. Proven alternatives to animal testing are available, especially for consumer products. Test-free consumer products are widely available now and many are no more expensive. Read labels; look for the words “not tested on animals.” If you don’t see those words, assume that the product is tested on animals.

Shoppers, start here, if you don’t find compassionate products locally:

None of these lists is all-inclusive. Each has different participation criteria. A company may choose not to sign the required statements or agreements required to participate in a listing.

What is animal testing?

Personal care products, cosmetics, and household cleaning products are tested on animals in laboratories, but USA laws do not require it. Large consumer product manufacturers typically contract with animal testing laboratories. Rats, mice, rabbits, dogs, cats, monkeys, and other animals are kept in small cages and kennels throughout their short lifetimes. They are forced to swallow or inhale test substances, and in one common test, up to 50% of them are expected to die. Caustic chemicals are applied to sensitive eyes (or applied to fur and skin). (Medical testing is a related subject not addressed here but very serious concerns exist.)

Yet test results are often unreliable, inconclusive or inapplicable to humans, many believe. The tested products are often included in consumer products, even if test results indicate some level of toxicity. If you are concerned about household or personal care products being safe for your family, you should also the question that animal testing used to justify that professed safety. And for animal lovers who believe animals suffer pain and deserve compassionate treatment, you should boycott products and companies that do not align with your values.

More information about testing:

Be aware that some types of products, including pharmaceuticals and some chemicals, require animal testing by law.

Five Simple Things You Can Do to be Compassionate to Animals

Watch Tip: Learn Signs of Pain in Cats and Dogs

Posted on January 8th, 2012 by Anna Nirva


Learn to recognize signs of pain in dogs and cats so that you can take appropriate action and prevent extreme suffering. Cats typically mask pain and many dogs do as well. The signs may be subtle but you can recognize them if you are prepared. As you travel through your daily life, be ready to help an animal in distress. You may save a life.

All animals deserve treatment to relieve their suffering

You certainly believe that but be aware that many people do not; they will ignore suffering in their animals. For centuries prevailing wisdom advised that the lesser animals did not feel pain like people do, possibly because people didn’t understand how to read the subtle symptoms of pain. Maybe they were taught to discount what signs they did observe. Remember, veterinary science is a recent innovation.

Cat pain or illness symptoms are particularly difficult to discern and a cat might be critically ill by the time the signs are evident. This sadly happened to our dear adopted cat Lucinda a few weeks ago and this post is dedicated to her memory. By the time she quit eating a day before Christmas Eve, she was already terminally ill, but she didn’t act sick. She slept more over the next two days; sleeping and refusing food were the only signs that she didn’t feel good. We took her to the vet the day after Christmas Day; she seemed weak.  She was diagnosed with severe non-regenerative anemia, cause unknown; her hemoglobin reading was the lowest the vet had seen in all his years of practice. We had to say goodbye. The suddenness of her decline and death was stupifying. We were horrified that we hadn’t provided treatment sooner.

Cats hide pain or illness instinctively. They are unlikely to vocalize when experiencing distress, but some will as pain advances. Know your cat’s routines and habits; be aware of changes. Symptoms of pain or ill health in cats include:

  • Change in routine, personality or activity levels
  • Loss of energy/more sleeping  OR  anxiety/agitation/aggression
  • Sitting on all four paws tucked under body, hunched posture, withdrawn
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid breathing or panting, inward expression
  • Favoring of a certain body part; tenderness; licking of sore spot
  • Fur looks unkempt

Read the Colorado State University’s “Feline Acute Pain Scale” to learn more about identifying signs of pain in cats.

Dogs are more variable in their expression of pain. Some dogs and breeds (notably the bully breeds) are stoic while some other individuals will provide many clear evidences of discomfort.

  • Whining or whimpering
  • Panting, rapid breathing, shivering, inward expression
  • Change in routine, personality or activity levels
  • Loss of energy/more sleeping  OR  anxiety/agitation/aggression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Favoring or presentation of a certain body part; tenderness; licking of sore spot

This is the dog version of the Colorado State University’s pain scale.

The most important advice is to know the behavior and habits of your own animals; be watchful and curious. If you are observing possible pain-related behavior of a neighbor’s pet or a stray, advocate for them. Contact your neighbor and describe your observances. Even in a note taped to an entrance works. See the Sunbear Squad “Pocket Poster” you can download and post at your neighbor’s. We have a Spanish language version available too.

If you find a stray that appears to be in pain or ill, take the animal to a vet if you live in an area served by a shelter or pound that you do not trust to uphold humane standards of care. If your area is served by a compassionate organization, contact them.

Watch Tip: Expecting Families

Posted on January 2nd, 2012 by Anna Nirva

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Be aware that expecting families may be under emotional pressure from family and friends to give away their dogs and cats for safety reasons. This is a very frequent cause of animals entering shelters and pounds. After a few days of stress, confusion and depression, many will sadly lose their lives. With terrible irony, the new human life sometimes results in death to the once-loved family pet.

Advise expecting families that they don’t have to give up their pets

As young families prepare for the most exciting event of their lives, new birth, they are typically deluged with well-meaning advice from every direction. One common piece of advise is to rid the home of dogs and/or cats. Some are concerned that cats will cause health problems with pregnancy. Others are concerned that dogs will attack babies. Still others believe that a new family will not have time or money for pets any longer. If the pet isn’t fully housetrained, that causes clear concern for basic hygiene for everyone but especially for a crawling baby.

Sometimes the expecting families have a change of heart about keeping pets. At the shelter where I volunteer frequently, a pregnant woman callously remarked to staff that “babies and dog hair don’t mix” as she filled out her paperwork to surrender an clearly worried little Corgi mix.  The woman had no empathy for her dog’s feelings of confusion. If only she knew how animals suffer when separated from their family and when they suddenly find themselves trapped in wire cages enveloped by strange noises and smells.

You might be able to offer a different perspective as an animal lover. Our farming heritage provides one such point. Many generations of farmers and herders around the world have managed to raise healthy children surrounded by various animals large and small. While keeping animals is not without risk, adult knowledge and common sense prevails to keep youngsters safe. Young veterinarians provide another perspective; they typically don’t give up their pets when pregnant, yet they are more aware of the risks due to their profession. Remind them that children learn responsibility at a young age by helping to care for family pets; they learn compassion and empathy if guided appropriately by parents and older siblings. They experience the deep joy of connecting with a special animal.

Provide resources to expecting families

If you are close to the expecting family with a pet or pets, think about offering some support. You might be able to walk the dog on a schedule or offer extra help when introducing the pets to the newly arrived baby. You might offer help with housetraining if needed. You might offer to regularly clean the cat box (to prevent exposure to toxoplasmosis), if another family member isn’t available.

See these resources online and share with expecting families: