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Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series 459 600 Animal Care and Control

Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series

Twenty Years in Review – Third in a Series

Today’s blog is the third and final installment in a series in which I review how DACC has improved its operations over the past 20 years. This edition discusses how DACC engages with the community to provide resources to assist pet parents and how we have revolutionized our animal adoption and customer service programs.

Animal care agencies play a critical role in helping people and the animals they care about. One of the most rewarding parts of my work has been reuniting lost pets with their families. It is extremely frightening for pet parents whose beloved animals have gone missing, and equally as terrifying for the animals who have lost their way. While I have many fond memories of seeing joyous reunions between lost pets and their families, one in particular always brings a smile to my face.

In the late 1980’s I worked at the Helping Hands Humane Society in Topeka, Kansas. One day as I walked through the kennels I noticed a huge black dog, about 100 pounds, with extremely long ears and soulful eyes. Because of his long ears, deep jowls, and sad eyes I could tell he clearly had some Bloodhound in him. He had a glossy coat, was in good condition, and had that look I often see in the eyes of lost pets that says, “I have a family!”. He stood out as something special to me, and I made a mental note of his presence in our shelter.

This was before the internet, social media, mainstream use of microchips, and other resources we use today to reunite lost pets and their owners. We relied on the local newspaper’s daily lost and found ads to try to reunite lost pets and their families. As I was reviewing the lost and found ads later that day, I saw the ad that I was sure was this dog. He was identified as a black Labrador Retriever/ Bloodhound mix named “Droopy” (I’m sure in reference to his pendulous ears). Droopy was lost while his family was camping along the Kansas river about 20 miles from our shelter. Being a Bloodhound mix, I’m sure he became fascinated with the smorgasbord of smells he found and just kept following his nose until he became lost. He followed the river for 20 miles until he arrived in our city, where an animal control officer found him and brought him to safety at our shelter.

Droopy belonged to a family who lived in Wichita, which is about 140 miles from Topeka. They had searched frantically for Droopy near their campsite to no avail and had to return home, praying that the ad in the local newspaper would bring him home. I immediately called the owners, who were overjoyed beyond belief and immediately drove the two hours to our shelter to reclaim him. They later sent me the kindest note and a bouquet of flowers to thank me for reuniting them with Droopy. He clearly meant the world to him. Animal shelters play critical roles in maintaining the human-animal bond. DACC has made tremendous strides over the past 20 years in improving its work in this area.

The Year 2001

In 2001, DACC’s operations did not focus on public service in terms of striving for excellent customer service or engaging the community to further the cause of animal wellbeing. DACC’s approach was very enforcement-driven and flexibility in addressing pet owners’ needs was not seen as necessary. Efforts to reunite them with pets like Droopy were scattered and not part of the daily expectations of staff. People reclaiming their lost pets sometimes could not afford to pay the impound fees required to redeem their pets and had to leave them with DACC. The adoption process was arduous because of long lines in care center lobbies and the time it took to work through the process, and sometimes people left in frustration without adopting a pet. No efforts were made to implement promotions, reduced costs, and other incentive adoption programs to get more animals adopted.

Without mutual understanding of each other’s resources and intentions, many staff viewed animal rescue groups with animosity or ambivalence instead of developing working relationships with them to save animals. There was also a sense of competition, rather than collaboration, with other animal agencies in the region. Aside from public rabies vaccination clinics, no resources were provided to the community to assist them with their animal needs. Care center volunteers were strongly discouraged and, except for a dedicated group at the Agoura Animal Care Center, were almost nonexistent.

Long lines of customers plagued the care centers, creating anger and frustration for the people who needed our help or were trying to comply with pet licensing requirements, as well as extreme stress for our overtaxed workforce. County residents in the Antelope Valley were frustrated being served by a communications center nearly 100 miles away in the city of Downey, where staff found it difficult to efficiently dispatch calls given the Antelope Valley’s unique geography.

DACC accepted all animals brought to us without question and without providing intervention services so families could keep their pets. This flood of animals even included capturing and accepting healthy wildlife that were a nuisance to residents. Because California Fish and Wildlife regulations prohibit relocating wildlife further than one mile from where they were captured, the only option provided for wildlife brought in by the public was euthanasia. This did nothing to resolve the concerns about nuisance wildlife as other animals quickly filled the void left by the removed ones, and the problems continued.

The Year 2021

Twenty years later, we have completely reversed the old approach to customer service and community engagement.  We constantly consider and implement service improvements to provide better customer service and ensure all staff observe them by requiring training and regularly updating our policies and procedures.

DACC has improved its pet reunification strategies in several ways. The Shadow app, accessible through our website, is a tool for people who have lost or found pets to connect and reunite them. We also provide information and advice about using social media and local neighborhood online groups to help lost pets find their way home. Our officers carry microchip scanners in their trucks and scan every animal they capture; animals that have microchips are taken directly to their homes and immediately reunited with their owners whenever possible. We are currently exploring the use of facial recognition software for pets to further our efforts. DACC works with pet owners experiencing financial hardship who wish to reclaim their lost and impounded pets and reduces or waives fees when possible. Grant funding and donations largely subsidize these costs.

DACC and the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation (ACF) also collaborate to address situations where pet owners feel they must relinquish ownership of their pets to DACC because they are experiencing a lack of access to affordable veterinary care or other financial hardship in caring for and keeping their pets. The ACF funds the Care Voucher program, which DACC staff employ to help pet owners in need of financial assistance and refers people to local participating providers of veterinary services, temporary boarding, grooming, pet food and other essentials. The ACF and the agencies that provide grants to it have stepped up to keep pets and their families together and reduce the influx of animals needlessly admitted to the animal care centers.  With their support, DACC staff have the resources to provide substantial assistance to pet owners in need with the goal of allowing them to keep their pet.

DACC’s move to appointment-based services has eliminated customer waiting lines, improved service levels, reduced the length of stay for our animals, and increased adoption rates. Appointments allow DACC staff to better prepare to provide the best adoption experience for visitors and make better matches with available pets. Dogs and cats that were often overlooked in the past get more visibility with this approach and many special needs or long-stay animals have found new homes this way.

Our newly launched Love at First Sight adoption process provides a fast-tracked animal assessment and preparation process so animals are made available more quickly for adoption, and adopters can easily identify which animals at the care center are ready to go home the same day. This process includes better coordination of the required medical exams, spay/neuter, and behavior assessments. In the past, adopters had to first select an animal and then wait days for the process to take place, often making multiple trips to the care center. No more – they can take their new family member home that very day!

The ACF and DACC have also begun providing low-cost spay/neuter services for community cats to reduce the number of unwanted kittens born and subsequently euthanized. Purrfect Fix is a program that works in collaboration with local community cat organizations who are already helping cat caretakers in Los Angeles County. Purrfect Fix will spay or neuter the cats, vaccinate them against rabies and other preventable cat diseases, and treat them for fleas and worms. After surgery, the cats are returned to their original environments where they can continue to reside but not produce unwanted offspring.

DACC now has a vibrant volunteer program with several full-time volunteer coordinators on staff. In 2019 we had more than 1,300 volunteers putting in a total of 44,341 hours helping animals at our ACCs, assisting during special events, and during emergency evacuations. While in-person volunteering has understandably decreased because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after implementing new health precautions we are now recruiting and engaging volunteers to assist us again. Volunteers are invaluable to helping DACC effectively implement its animal welfare and adoption programs and maintain community engagement.

DACC now has an established Adoption Partner program for organized 501(c)(3) nonprofit animal rescue groups so they can act as partners in our efforts to rehome animals.  Some of these animals need further medical or behavioral treatment, and Adoption Partners can provide this assistance through their programs. This system provides a structured means of  notifications and outreach to Adoption Partners so they can adopt animals in need of their services. We now have partnerships with more than 380 animal rescue organizations!

We no longer accept healthy wildlife and now only accept those that are sick or injured. We work closely with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups to help these animals recover and return to their native habitat. We have also established a second communications center at our Lancaster Animal Care Center that is dedicated to servicing the unique geographical needs of the Antelope Valley.

DACC now partners and collaborates with animal agencies throughout the state, and especially in southern California. We have Mutual Assistance Agreements with 20 regional animal care and control agencies to help each other during wildfires, mudslides, or other disasters and emergencies. DACC participates in the California Animal Welfare Association’s (CalAnimals) programming and training. Other cross-agency partnerships include working large-scale animal cruelty cases together. We are happy to help our colleagues in animal welfare protect people and animals in our communities and theirs.

DACC’s approach to serving the community has changed from an enforcement-heavy, bureaucratic authoritarian agency to a community resource agency that assists residents with their animal problems, values animal life-saving programs, and collaborates with other animal groups and agencies to bring the best resources to the community. It is an honor to be entrusted with these important responsibilities, and I salute the dedicated staff and volunteers who work every day to meet our mission.

 

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Twenty Years in Review – Second in a Series 624 768 Animal Care and Control

Twenty Years in Review – Second in a Series

Twenty Years in Review – Second in a Series

I am still haunted by a case I had in 1986 when I was a newly minted animal cruelty investigator in Houston, Texas. I had received a complaint from a resident about her neighbor, who had dozens of animals inside her home that were ill and often dying. Offspring born to the dogs and cats would die shortly after birth and the owner would wrap them in tin foil and place the little bodies under her home, which was raised on cement blocks. Rats were feeding on the bodies and the entire property was a hazard.

When I arrived at the pet owner’s home, I was completely shocked at what I saw. The elderly owner cracked her front door open and I could see she was dressed in a filthy housedress and had open sores on her arms and legs. The barks and yowls from animals inside the darkened house told me there were many animals inside. There was an overwhelming stench of feces and urine that made my eyes burn and I had to hold my breath as much as I could.

I told the woman the reason for my visit and that I needed to see the animals to check on their condition. She denied having multiple animals despite the strong odor and loud animal noise behind her. She finally relented to let me see one animal and brought it to me.

It was a small animal, about 15 pounds. There was not one hair on its body, and the skin was thickened, wrinkled, and oozed serum – the clear yellowish liquid that separates when blood is clotted, as in a blister. The animal was so disfigured that I couldn’t even tell if it was a dog or cat until she placed it on the ground and, by its movement, I could tell it was a dog. I told her this animal needed immediate medical attention and I followed her to the veterinary hospital. The young veterinarian on duty was shocked at what he saw and called the practice owner for a consultation. They determined the animal was too decimated to survive, and it was mercifully euthanized to end its pain and suffering.

This was my first experience with an animal hoarding case. Animal hoarding is characterized by keeping excessive numbers of animals in filthy and inhumane conditions, failing to provide proper food or medical care, and a lack of awareness of the negative effects these conditions place on the person’s own health and the health of family members. It is a recognized psychological illness that is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The next day I spoke with the woman’s adult daughter, who lived several hours away. I explained the serious condition of the animals, her mother, and her living conditions. Based on our conversation, her daughter acted. The animals were removed by animal control, the mother went to live with her daughter, and the house was so damaged it was demolished.

This case is an example of how animal welfare professionals protect people and animals in the community. By informing the daughter of her mother’s condition, I was able to get assistance for the mother as well as see the animals removed from a dangerous and inhumane environment. Today’s blog is the second in a series in which I review how DACC has improved its operations over the past 20 years. This edition discusses how DACC has enhanced its role in protecting our community.

The Year 2001
When I joined DACC in 2001 I learned that the Department only minimally responded to complaints of animal abuse or neglect and relied on an outdated County ordinance that did not provide adequate enforcement to protect animals. The robust body of State anti-cruelty laws was rarely used, missing opportunities to resolve serious cases and relieve animals of their suffering. Complaints of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs and noise complaints were subject to cumbersome processes that did not adequately resolve the issues. Dogs that threatened people but had not yet bitten were disregarded, leaving the potential for a future attack. Officers were not trained on investigatory techniques or preparing cases for presentation to the District Attorney. Few, if any, actions were taken to help pet owners in dire need of assistance, like my hoarding example above. Emergency responses to wildfires were disjointed and lacked the proper equipment to rescue and transport animals in danger. The animal licensing program, which includes rabies vaccination verification to protect public health, was harsh and punitive.

The Year 2021
The past twenty years have seen a tremendous improvement in how DACC protects the community. Our officers are now trained in how to recognize and report the neglect and abuse of children, elders, and dependent adults. Many times neighbors won’t get involved in such cases when the only victim is a person, but they will call animal control when animals are in jeopardy. When we respond and discover people in need of assistance, we immediately notify law enforcement or the appropriate social services agency to respond. These agencies likewise now report animal abuse to us, triggering our officers to rescue animals in danger. We also provide confidential, free pet boarding for pet owners who are victims of domestic violence. In many cases they do not leave their abuser because domestic violence shelters do not allow pets, and they fear the abuser will harm or kill their animals in revenge if they leave. Our boarding program ensures the pets are safe and well cared for until the victim can safely reclaim them.

One of the most important roles DACC plays is protecting the public and animals from dangerous dogs. Our Safe Neighborhoods program protects residents who are threatened by dogs that have not yet bitten, such as aggressive dogs in a poorly fenced yard that may be able to escape and attack. Through this program, officers proactively meet with the dog owner, verify compliance with rabies vaccination, license, spay/neuter, and microchip requirements, and counsel the dog owner about responsible pet ownership. Their property is evaluated for weaknesses in confinement, and orders are issued to correct deficiencies. No more waiting for a bite to occur — by taking these measures we prevent bites from happening in the first place.

When bites or attacks occur the Critical Case Processing Unit (CCP), established in 2012, thoroughly investigates and takes action regarding potentially dangerous and vicious dogs. The CCP unit reviews more than 1,300 complaints each year and takes administrative or legal action to impose restrictions on the keeping of dangerous dogs or remove them from the home.

Animals are now much better protected against animal abuse and neglect. While many cases can be resolved with education and lower level enforcement, others rise to misdemeanor or felony crimes and are referred to our designated Major Case Unit officers. These experienced officers investigate the more serious cases and refer them to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution. These cases include intentional cruelty, criminal neglect, animal hoarding, dogfighting, and cockfighting. In 2017, DACC was the lead animal agency in the largest cockfighting raid in U.S. history, with more than 7,800 birds involved.

DACC has also significantly expanded its ability to rescue and shelter animals during major disasters. Southern California wildfires often mean emergency evacuation orders and DACC responds quickly with well-trained teams to rescue and shelter pets and livestock. We have added a fleet of newer horse and livestock trailers, a mobile emergency command center, and a large movable inflatable tent with cooling and heating to provide a safe environment for pet owners and their animals. A new mobile medical response unit is fully equipped to provide on-site surgical and other veterinary treatments for injured animals. Our small animal evacuation trailers are heated and air conditioned and have independent power sources. They are placed at Red Cross shelters during emergencies, so pets have a safe place to be housed while their owners are receiving human shelter and services.

Last year we added a horse evacuation site to our Castaic animal care center where up to 50 horses can be safely housed during emergencies. This compliments our other designated evacuation sites throughout the County, which Santa Clarita area residents may have difficulty reaching if freeways are closed due to the fires. We have Mutual Assistance Agreements with more than two dozen animal care agencies to assist each other during emergencies. In partnership with LA County Fire, specially trained DACC officers respond to rescue horses that have suffered serious accidents in remote, rugged areas and must be evacuated by helicopter. Our trained cadre of volunteer Equine Response Team members provide valuable assistance in emergency evacuation and housing of displaced horses and livestock.

Los Angeles County Code Title 10 – Animals is the County’s ordinance regarding animals. Title 10 has been updated regularly and is a model municipal ordinance for other jurisdictions to use in updating their own ordinances. Updates to Title 10 during the past 20 years include implementing an animal facility letter grading system like the system used to grade restaurants so pet owners have a better awareness of a facility’s compliance with the law. Other revisions include requiring that all dogs and cats be spayed or neutered and microchipped; a very strong commercial animal breeding ordinance for facilities known as puppy mills; improvements to better identify and manage potentially dangerous and vicious dogs; the use of administrative citations and hearings to expedite enforcement actions; a vastly improved animal noise ordinance; and a strong ordinance regarding the keeping of roosters. The ordinance was also overhauled using the County’s Plain Language program, reducing the length of the ordinance by more than 30 percent, eliminating confusing legal jargon, and making legal requirements clearer for residents. This ordinance overhaul earned DACC an award for the application of the County’s Plain Language Initiative from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission.

Our animal licensing program has changed its approach to be a collaborative program that works with pet owners to come into compliance with rabies vaccination and licensing laws. The harsh penalties of the past have ended, and owners are given the opportunity to correct their violations with lower penalties and with the opportunity for “fix-it” tickets. This increases compliance and is less punitive to lower income pet parents.

Protecting public and animal welfare and safety is a rewarding mission that DACC is proud to undertake. Developing and implementing new public safety programs and improving laws have made Los Angeles County safer for animals and people. The DACC team takes great pride and is vigilant in its role of protecting the community.

But protecting the community isn’t all we do to assist our residents. In my next installment in this series, I will share how DACC also engages with the community to provide resource to assist pet parents, and how we have revolutionized our animal adoption and customer service programs. Stay tuned!

Marcia Mayeda
You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Twenty Years in Review – First in a Series 1024 1024 Animal Care and Control

Twenty Years in Review – First in a Series

Twenty Years in Review – First in a Series

A few years ago I was looking through my childhood artwork and projects that I had saved. As I reminisced over the paintings, stories, and sculptures I noticed that every single item was about animals. I began thinking of what a one-dimensional child I was. Didn’t I have any interests other than animals? Then I came upon a grade school story I wrote about meeting a Leprechaun. I was so relieved to find I had another topic in my collection.

In this story I asked the Leprechaun many questions to find out where he hid his gold, and through negotiations I convinced him to take me to the treasure. We travelled some distance until he brought me to the gold, and I made him give it to me so I could . . . buy all the animals in the world! I laughed at this story and realized my love for animals was my destiny from the beginning.

DACC is the largest animal care and control agency in the country, so I guess my Leprechaun story has come true in a way. July 2021 is my 20 year anniversary of leading DACC, and as I reflect on all the improvements made over the years I am exceedingly grateful to the staff and volunteers who have worked alongside me to successfully implement these changes and make DACC the nationally recognized industry leader it is today. I am also thankful to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for their trust in my leadership and support of our mission.

When I joined DACC  I discovered philosophical and operational differences from what I knew as best practices. DACC had an approach more reminiscent of the 1950’s. I was shocked to see that the largest animal control organization in the nation was so far behind the times.

I set forth to change the organizational culture from a “dogcatcher and dog pound” mentality to the progressive animal welfare organization that it is today. Thankfully, I had many supporters in the department that also wanted to see these changes. We began making changes right away and these continue even today as we discover better ways of serving our community. We are a learning organization and are always scanning the environment to identify best practices.

When reflecting on all the improvements we have implemented I realized that one monthly blog is not long enough to discuss even the highlights. Because these deserve a deeper discussion, this month’s blog begins a blog series about how DACC has revolutionized operations. This month’s edition is about how we have transformed the care of animals in our animal care centers (ACCs).

The Year 2001

When I joined DACC animal care was substandard. Overcrowded and decaying cages and poor sanitation were often the case. Dog runs had three to four large dogs per run, creating a stressful environment and competition for food, water, and resting space. Fights were not uncommon. Cats were housed in small cages –  feral cats in old primate research cages – in dark and neglected rooms. Multiple cats were put in cages together without enough room for proper distancing, eating, and elimination. Cleaning practices were poor, resulting in animal disease and odors that discouraged adoptions. Dogs were fed by large hanging self-feeders, which were not cleaned regularly, spread disease, and made it impossible to properly observe if a dog was eating enough. The food was of poor quality and minimal nutrition.

In 2001, DACC only had six veterinarians and six registered veterinary technicians to care for more than 90,000 animals each year in six facilities. Because all dogs and cats are required by law to be spayed or neutered before adoption, the medical staff only had time to focus on spay/neuter surgeries and not on the general health of the animals in the care centers. Most surgeries were performed in dilapidated single-wide trailers that had outlived their suitability for use. Medical issues, including simple upper respiratory disease, were not observed nor treated and  resulted in a high euthanasia rate. DACC did not even vaccinate against kennel cough, the most prevalent canine illness in animal shelters.

Twenty years ago, there were no behavioral enrichment programs to reduce animal stress and make them more adoptable. Behavioral assessments were not conducted, and we could not provide any informed recommendations to potential adopters. The lack of enrichment contributed to the stressful environment, lowering animals’ immune systems and making them more susceptible to disease.

Most appalling, 70% of the dogs and 79% of the cats were euthanized instead of finding live outcomes such as return to their families, adoption, or placement with animal rescue groups. I immediately told DACC managers that we were going to strive toward a 90% live release rate for our animals. They thought I was a crazy “humaniac”, but I knew I needed an audacious goal to really change how they viewed their responsibility to the animals and the public. And so we began.

The Year 2021

Through many approaches we have significantly reduced euthanasia to just 12% for dogs and 34% for cats. Although it will always be necessary for us to euthanize to end an animal’s suffering or protect public safety from a dangerous dog, we continue to identify innovative strategies to reduce these percentages even further. Our efforts to further reduce cat euthanasia will be discussed in an upcoming edition in this series.

Since 2001, the County and DACC’s supporting nonprofit foundation, the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation (LACACF – www.lacountyanimals.org), have invested millions of dollars into improving the care center environments. New spay/neuter clinics, cat housing (including new cat cages, cat solariums, exercise pens, portals to double the size of cat cages, and outdoor “catios”), dog play yards for exercise and socialization, new or refurbished dog kennels, new horse barns and livestock housing, improved HVAC systems, and adding our seventh animal care center in Palmdale have all elevated the quality of housing and care for the animals. We have also completed a Facilities Master Plan for the renovation and replacement of our aging animal care centers when funding becomes available.

We have implemented state-of-the-art disinfection protocols, automatic dog waterers, commercial washers and dryers to launder bedding, and commercial dishwashers to properly clean food and water bowls. These all have contributed to a great reduction in disease by providing more sanitary environments and have increased the comfort of the animals.

We incorporate industry best practices of animal care center management into our operations. DACC has implemented the nationally recognized Socially Conscious Animal Sheltering operating framework, which is based on respectful treatment of animals, placing every healthy and safe animal, transparency and leadership, thoughtful public policy, and safe communities.  We have adopted the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, the international standard for housing large numbers of animals. The Five Freedoms are freedom from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury, or disease; fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behavior. We have also implemented the specialized animal handling program called Fear Free Animal Handling to reduce fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration for animals in our care.

Our medical team has expanded to 13 veterinarians and 28 registered veterinary technicians to care for about 19,000 animals/year in seven animal care facilities. DACC follows shelter medicine best practices as recommended by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. All animals receive intake and exit examinations, core vaccines, flea/tick treatment, and preventative and supportive care. We now provide individualized medical treatment for each animal and perform other surgeries, beyond routine spay and neuter, to save animals’ lives. The LACACF’s Dreams Come True program and the organization Healthcare for Homeless Animals pay for extraordinary medical procedures for animals admitted into our ACCs, saving countless lives each year. LACACF’s Grooming Gives Hope program pays for professional groomers to groom severely matted animals, usually with underlying medical problems that can then be treated.

Now we have a professional animal behaviorist on staff and a team dedicated to providing environmental enrichment through toys, dog play groups, cat habitat expansion, horse exercise turnouts, specialized enclosures for reptiles, and other means. We provide objective assessments of animal behavior and make good recommendations for the most suitable placement.

It is so rewarding to see the transformation we have made for the animals in our care. I no longer cringe when I visit our ACCs but am overjoyed to see the outstanding care our team is providing. Next month I will tell you about how we have revolutionized our work protecting the community.

 

Marcia Mayeda

You can subscribe to Marcia’s monthly blog here:   https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/

Herd Immunity Isn’t Just for Humans 739 424 Animal Care and Control

Herd Immunity Isn’t Just for Humans

I began working for my local veterinarian when I was in high school and remained at that job until I left for college. I loved caring for the animals and learning about veterinary medicine, and happily worked evenings, weekends, and family holidays (the animals needed care every day!). I still remember my favorite patient who often boarded at the hospital – a long haired red miniature dachshund named Myron. Myron was as bright as a new copper penny and full of love. He was so tiny that he would get high centered trying to cross the small doorway threshold and I would have to lift him over it so he could enter the next room. I also remember Eloise, the black and white cat who terrorized me whenever I had to change her bedding. Despite her loud growling and hissing she never hurt me, but I didn’t take any chances!
However, I was disturbed that the veterinarian would discourage his clients from adopting from animal shelters. Then and for many years later, private practice veterinarians would tell their clients to avoid adopting from animal shelters because the animals were often sick. Sadly, in those days this was often the case.
But that is no longer true. Animal shelters have made great strides in veterinary medicine and are now at the leading edge of many medical practices such as herd immunity and capacity for care, subjects we have heard about in relation to human medicine and COVID-19. While these topics may be new for many people, they aren’t for those of us who work in animal welfare. They are critical components of how we keep our animals safe and healthy in our animal care centers.
Animal care agencies practice what is known as “herd health medicine”. That is, the entire population of animals are provided with the same preventative health care treatments to prevent or minimize disease. At DACC, all dogs and cats are vaccinated upon arrival with recommended core vaccines. They are also treated for external parasites such as fleas and ticks, and internal parasites such as worms. By treating all the animals, we prevent outbreaks of very serious and fatal diseases such as parvovirus in dogs and panleukopenia in cats. We also make certain that parasite transmission is minimized. These precautions make for healthier and happier animals, protect the wellness of lost pets who will be returning to their families, and present better candidates for adoption into new homes. The herd immunity is maintained at optimum levels.
But DACC veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians (RVTs) go beyond herd health management. They also treat each animal as an individual. Animals may arrive with illnesses or injuries that require specific treatments. Examples include vehicle trauma, fractured bones, open wounds, ear infections, skin infections, and much more.
Every animal is examined upon arrival by an RVT, who will note any abnormalities for veterinary review. Treatment plans are created and animals who require specialized treatments receive them. Animals requiring surgery may have the procedure performed in the animal care center or be referred to a private veterinarian for more complicated cases. In these circumstances, the medical fees are paid by the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation’s Dreams Come True fund. Funded by private donations, this fund has saved the lives of thousands of animals who have come through DACC’s doors. You can learn more at: https://lacountyanimals.org/services/dreams-come-true-fennec/.
Veterinarians also conduct daily medical rounds throughout the animal care centers, looking for potential new medical concerns that may arise. Part of this responsibility includes disease surveillance, by sampling and testing, to identify common causes of illness in the animal care centers. This is done on a regular basis and allows DACC to be a sentinel for pet disease occurrences in the community. This provides opportunities to actively work with the larger veterinary community and public health agencies to address community animal disease outbreaks.
Another similarity between COVID-19 and animal care center operations is the idea of “capacity for care”. We saw our Los Angeles hospitals struggle with the overload of COVID-19 patients this winter. Patients were delayed admittance or located in converted conference rooms or other repurposed areas. Oxygen systems in six area hospitals could not keep up with the oxygen demand of COVID-19 patients, and the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to update the systems. The volume of patients exceeded the hospitals’ capacity for care and the amazing work of all hospital staff was a testament to human perseverance and compassion.
Animal shelters also must operate within a capacity for care structure. DACC manages its animal care center populations with a capacity for care model developed by the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Managing our capacity for care ensures we can provide the most optimal animal health and welfare environment. We do this by providing alternatives to impoundment such as assisting pet owners by providing resources and options for their pets other than surrender to our care centers. We also maintain an active foster care program, where underage kittens and other animals can receive the care they need in a private home until they are old enough and well enough for adoption. In addition, we partner with more than 300 animal rescue groups to place available pets for adoption. These and other programs allow us to maintain our population at safe levels and provide animals in our care with the medical and behavioral treatments they need.
DACC goes beyond providing care for animals in its care centers; it also provides wellness clinics for owned pets and in underserved communities. DACC veterinary medical and support staff provide low-cost vaccinations, microchips, and spay/neuter services for pets whose owners can not otherwise obtain those services, both at the animal care centers and through mobile services. These efforts help keep the communities’ pets healthy and contribute to a healthy herd population.
Shelter medicine has become so prominent that it was recognized as a board-certified specialty by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 2014. Veterinarians that practice shelter medicine have special awareness of animal facility design, sanitation, nutrition, herd health management, epidemiology, animal population management, immunology, infectious disease, public health, emergency response, animal cruelty investigations, and veterinary forensics. They must also be aware of the medical needs of many species of animals, not just dogs and cats. DACC admits many other types of animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, horses, livestock, reptiles, ferrets, and exotic birds like parrots. We have even had a camel, pygmy hedgehog, emus, a capybara, and other animals you wouldn’t expect.
DACC has 13 veterinarians and 28 RVTs on staff, along with dedicated animal care aides, to ensure the health and well-being of animals in our seven animal care centers and in the community. It is so rewarding to see the high level of care provided by these compassionate professionals, and private practice veterinarians now recommend animal shelters as a good place to obtain a pet. The transformation of shelter medicine since my early years working for my veterinarian has saved millions of animals’ lives across the country and I am thrilled to have been along for the journey.

Marcia Mayeda

Buyer Beware 1024 683 Animal Care and Control

Buyer Beware

Buyer Beware

Thirty years ago, I led an animal shelter in Topeka, Kansas and we were often called upon to assist when authorities raided illegal and inhumane puppy mills. These neglected, ill animals needed safe havens where they could receive treatment and ultimately be placed for adoption. We accepted this difficult and heartbreaking duty because of the compelling need to save these animals and help stem the fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting purchasers of their offspring.

The memories of the atrocities I witnessed as I worked alongside State inspectors, veterinarians, and animal welfare colleagues at these locations still haunt me to this day. The gross and callous disregard for basic animal needs and extreme suffering were unconscionable.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) defines: “A puppy mill is an inhumane high-volume dog breeding facility that churns out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers. Dogs from puppy mills are often sick and unsocialized. Puppy mills commonly sell through internet sales, online classified ads, flea markets and pet stores. In fact, the majority of puppies sold in pet stores and online are from puppy mills. Responsible breeders will be happy to meet you in person and show you where the puppy was born and raised—and where their mom lives too.”

Pet owners who purchase the puppies born in puppy mills are often burdened with genetically defective and ill animals. Hydrocephalus, epilepsy, and liver shunts (a birth defect causing blood to bypass the liver) are just a few of the dozens of severe genetic problems that can be expected in puppy mill dogs. Illnesses such as parvovirus, distemper, ringworm, and mange are other common diseases and ailments in puppy mill dogs, caused by poor medical care and sanitation. Purchasers often spend thousands of dollars on veterinary expenses trying to save their new pets, but many times the animals are too ill and die despite all efforts. Others may have life-long expensive medical conditions to manage. Additionally, puppies from these sources may have genetic behavior problems such as aggression or excessive shyness.

Compared to their parents, the puppies that make it out of these places are the lucky ones. The dogs kept for breeding are doomed to lifetimes of living in these horrible situations, forced to produce litter after litter. Purchasing puppies from puppy mills supports and sustains these unconscionable businesses and mean more and more dogs will suffer lifetimes of neglect and abuse.

The identification of puppy mills as inhumane operations is not new, but the potential for this kind of animal abuse is growing and needs greater attention.  The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great demand for pets because people have been isolated or working from home, providing a great opportunity to introduce a new pet into the home. This demand has ignited many fraudulent breeders and brokers of puppies, and complaints have skyrocketed. In fact, the Better Business Bureau reports that online puppy scams rose by 500% in 2020, and consumers are expected to have lost more than $3,000,000, not to mention incalculable distress and disappointment.

This fraud upon the unsuspecting public and gross abuse of animals is happening right in our own community. In February 2021 in Los Angeles County, Gustavo Gonzalez was ordered to pay $203,000 in restitution to 63 victims of his puppy scam operation in which he sold dozens of sick and underaged puppies to families wanting to adopt. Many of these puppies died after arriving in their new homes. In addition to the restitution, Gonzalez was sentenced to 87 days in jail, placed on probation for a year, and waived time credits for the nearly two years he had already spent in jail. He was brought to justice by the tireless investigative work of the spcaLA and the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, and the prosecution by the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has issued several warnings about these scams, which can include passing off mixed breed puppies as purebreds to fraudulently command high prices. In December 2020 the County D.A. warned that victims may be duped into purchasing what they believe to be purebred dogs for thousands of dollars, when in fact they are not purebred. https://da.lacounty.gov/community/fraud-alerts/scammers-try-pass-off-puppies-purebreds .

Some fraudulent breeders may also pose as animal rescue groups, to attract purchasers who seek to adopt a pet in need rather than purchasing one that is purpose-bred. However, these groups are also scammers who are puppy millers or brokers in disguise. In June 2017, the D.A.’s office issued a fraud alert about these animal shelter scams: http://da.lacounty.gov/community/fraud-alerts/animal-shelter-scam.

“These people are making a profit, so you have to stop the demand,” said spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein. “It’s a high profit business and there’s no incentive to invest in the welfare of the dogs in these situations. If we stop the demand, the suppliers lose their market and the buyers and animals are protected.”

So, what is a prospective new dog parent supposed to do? Here are some do’s and don’ts about obtaining your new family member:

DO

  • First, check out the available pets at your local animal shelters. New animals arrive daily, and many wonderful dogs are there through no fault of their own and will make outstanding family companions.
  • Look at available pets offered by animal rescue organizations, many of whom do identify themselves by breed interest. (Many puppy millers have established nonprofit organizations they call “rescues” to avoid the appearance of being puppy mills, but these are just fronting for their for-profit businesses. They may even sell them in pet stores!) Make sure the rescues you contact are legitimate organizations and not fraudulent scammers by considering these questions:
    • Does the group offer strictly purebred or “designer” breed puppies only? Legitimate rescues may focus on certain breeds but accept and rehome mixes as well, and dogs of all ages. Bona-fide rescues also usually have very few puppies, because puppies are less likely to be unwanted and therefore require rescue. When they do have puppies, litters are kept healthy by staying with their mother or a foster until they are at least eight weeks old.
    • Does the group appear genuinely interested in your suitability as a pet parent? Do they ask you questions to make sure you will provide a good home, or are they just eager to unload an animal and collect your money?
    • Does the group spay/neuter and microchip all animals prior to adoption into new homes? Reputable rescue groups will always seek to prevent pet overpopulation and maximize an animal’s chance to be found again if lost. They also ensure current vaccinations, have their animals checked by veterinarians, and offer complete information about their animals’ health.
    • View where the animals live. Fake rescues often keep their pets in filthy, hoarding conditions. Make sure the dog is either in a proper facility or a foster home. Insist on seeing your potential pet in the environment where it is being cared for.
    • Ask how the dog came to the rescue. In most cases, it should have come from an animal shelter or from an owner who could no longer care for it. Puppies purchased from puppy mill auctions or sources out of the country should not be offered.
    • There are no organizations that regulate animal rescues. Do your due diligence and research them online to ensure they have an established and reputable profile.
  • If you are committed to obtaining a specific breed and there is not a rescue group for that breed that can assist you, you might turn to a legitimate breeder. If you do, be sure to:
    • Meet the breeder in person. The breeder should be very knowledgeable and care about their breed. Legitimate breeders do not indiscriminately place their puppies without ensuring they are going to good homes. Breeders who show their dogs have demonstrated a commitment to maintaining the quality of their breed. The breeder should have suitable experience breeding and showing dogs,
    • See the conditions in which the dogs are raised. It should be clean and odor free, with lots of socialization opportunities for the dogs. Ensure they are fed a quality diet and have a structured health plan for all animals. Puppies should be vaccinated and dewormed on a schedule.
    • See the parents and evaluate their behavior and health. Sometimes the sires (father dogs) are not on the premises. If not, find out who they are and why this sire was chosen. It should be to complement the dam’s (mother’s) characteristics, or his outstanding genetic composition and breed titles, not just because he was conveniently available.
    • The breeder should be able to certify that the puppies and parents are screened and guaranteed against genetic problems common with the breed, such as eye and orthopedic problems. The breeder should offer refunds or exchanges if there are problems with the puppy down the road.

Whether you obtain a dog from an animal shelter, rescue group or reputable breeder, be sure to:

  • Make certain that puppies are at least eight weeks of age. They need to be with their mothers and littermates this long to develop good immune systems, proper dog socialization, and to be properly weaned and eating solid food.
  • Research the going price for the animal. It is customary for rescues to charge a couple hundred dollars to offset their costs for spay/neuter and care, but more than $500 is excessive (except in unusual cases). There are customary prices for puppies from legitimate breeders depending on the breed and whether the puppy is show or pet quality. Excessively low prices for a highly desirable puppy can be a sign of a fraudulent offer.
  • Obtain a contract of sale/adoption that documents your agreement, transfer of ownership, and return/reimbursement policies.

DON’T

  • Purchase puppies on the internet, craigslist, or other mass marketing platforms. Bogus breeder websites with stock photos are easy to set up and mislead purchasers as to the nature of the seller and quality/health of the animals.
  • Meet sellers in random public areas like parking lots. This is done to avoid allowing you to see the conditions in which the animals live and later be able to track down the illegitimate seller.
  • Pay for the puppies with Zelle, Venmo, gift cards, wire transfers, or other untraceable or difficult to recover payment sources. Use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
  • Rely solely on photographs of the puppies or the living conditions. These can be easily faked.
  • Pursue purchasing a puppy from evasive or difficult to reach people. If they are unwilling to answer your questions or stop returning phone calls, walk away.
  • Get duped into excessively high and questionable shipping schemes. Many scammers accept payment for the puppy, then demand thousands of dollars more in shipping.

A pet is a lifetime commitment and should be selected with good judgment and research.  Buying a cute puppy from a questionable source risks the heartbreak of having a very sick animal and perpetuating the greed and cruelty of scammers.  If you come across a potential scammer do your part to stop this practice by reporting your experience to your local animal law enforcement and business monitoring agencies.   Bringing a new pet into your home should be a joyful and positive experience. I wish all new pet owners many years of love and companionship with a healthy and happy pet!

 

Marcia Mayeda

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Pet Health Care Costs

Pet Health Care Costs

In my March blog, I discussed findings from the February 2021 Modern Pet Parent Report that highlighted the importance pets have played during the pandemic. This report also discussed pet owners’ concerns regarding the ability to pay for their pets’ medical care. The survey reported, “The thing that stresses pet parents out the most is their pet getting sick (76%), their dog/cat having a chronic/long-term illness (73%), and potential unknown health issues (73%). In addition, 77% of pet parents are concerned about their pet’s future health.”

The costs of veterinary care have always been a factor to consider regarding pet ownership. Sometimes people express shock about the costs of veterinary medicine and believe veterinarians should discount their services so pet medical costs are more affordable. Expensive diagnostic costs such as x rays and blood tests are sometimes perceived as optional but are needed to ensure quality care is provided. This is especially true in emergency cases, in order to reach a definitive diagnosis and begin the right treatment plan as soon as possible.

Most people are unaware of the costs to operate a veterinary practice and veterinary costs are not subsidized like human medicine. Health insurance companies, local, State, and federal funding, and hospital nonprofit supporting foundations all factor into the costs hospitals for humans bill patients. Human medicine costs are actually significantly higher than what veterinarians charge, but most people never see the actual costs for human hospital services because of the subsidies mentioned above, especially for routine and non-emergency services. This leads to a misconception that veterinary medicine pricing is higher.

Veterinarians should be able to charge appropriately for their services, time, and expertise. They are doctors who have devoted years of study and passed rigorous examinations to become licensed and must be able to maintain a viable business. Many veterinary students graduate with nearly $200,000 in student debt and it can take decades to pay off these loans. Veterinary specialists pursue advanced board certifications requiring more investment in time and educational costs. Veterinary hospitals are businesses that must pay for salaries and benefits, supplies, medical equipment, operating costs, overhead, liability insurance, and more.  Veterinary expenses can be regular, like vaccinations and exams, or unexpected and costly. Some low-cost routine services like vaccines and spay/neuter surgeries can be found with local service providers (contact your local animal care center for referrals), but emergency services and long-term illnesses are not offered by these sources.

I know firsthand the unexpected medical costs of pet ownership and the need to make a very expensive decision right away. Several years ago, I took one of my routine early morning walks with our four large dogs. Suddenly Isabella, our nine-year-old Great Pyrenees, began having extreme difficulty breathing. We were three blocks from home when she collapsed and couldn’t walk anymore. She began gasping for air, her gums were turning blue, and she was in great distress. I was unable to carry her home (she weighed 95 pounds), especially with three other large dogs in tow. Thankfully, a good friend was close by and rushed over so I could put Isabella in her car. She drove Isabella home while I ran back to with the other three dogs, put Isabella in my car, and rushed her to the emergency hospital. On my way to the hospital another friend called them ahead of me so they could be prepared to receive Isabella right away. Two registered veterinary technicians were waiting outside with a gurney and they whisked Isabella into the hospital where the board-certified veterinarian began working on her. He intubated Isabella so she could begin receiving the necessary oxygen and stabilized her condition.

Once my precious dog was out of danger, the veterinarian explained to me what was happening. Isabella had developed a severe onset case of laryngeal paralysis, a condition where the nerves of the laryngeal muscles become weak or paralyzed and the flaps that separate the esophagus from the trachea do not work. In Isabella’s case, the flaps had mostly closed and were preventing her from taking in enough oxygen to her lungs.

The only treatment for Isabella was emergency surgery. One flap in her trachea had to be sutured to the tracheal wall to maintain an open airway or she would not survive. I was provided a surgery estimate of $5,000. The veterinarian also told me that dogs that have this surgery are more susceptible to aspiration pneumonia, where food or water could enter her trachea (and into her lungs) instead of her esophagus. Additionally, I learned that laryngeal paralysis is highly associated with myasthenia gravis, a disease where there is a malfunction in the transmission of signals between the nerves and muscles. This is most exhibited in extreme weakness and excessive fatigue and could be a condition she would face later.

My husband and I had to make a quick decision. A nine-year-old Great Pyrenees is a senior dog, and we had to consider the significant and unexpected surgical cost with Isabella’s life expectancy and ability to live a good life with the potential problems the veterinarian told us she might have. We agreed that we wanted to make every effort to save her life and proceeded with the surgery. I am happy to say it was successful and she lived another five years without any problems.

However, this was a very large and unexpected expense for us. What can pet owners do in situations like this? Here are a few options:

  1. Purchase pet health insurance. There are many resources on the internet that rank and rate pet insurance companies. Be sure to review each plan carefully and review the insurer’s track record, research what is covered and what might affect coverage, choose the coverage that works for you, pick the type of reimbursement that works for you, review the cost and value, ask about discounts, and enroll your pets when they are young and healthy to avoid limited coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
  2. Set aside savings to pay out of pocket when the time comes.
  3. Acquire emergency veterinary financing on credit. Care Credit is a well-known provider of such credit and most veterinary hospitals can tell you how to immediately apply. Make sure you read all the terms and conditions for payments to avoid penalties.
  4. Launch a crowdfunding campaign to get financial help from others. Many times, friends and family will chip in to help offset the costs of care.

I learned the benefit of having animal health insurance when my horse Murphy developed a severe case of cellulitis in his leg and had to be hospitalized for two weeks. His medical treatment came to an overwhelming $14,000, but thanks to his insurance I only had to pay the $350 deductible. The annual premium payments I had paid for years were a good investment and I’m grateful I had the insurance. He is now a happy 22-year-old Shire horse (often mistaken for a Clydesdale), enjoying his easy trail rides and getting petted by many hikers we meet along the way.

Owning a pet is countlessly rewarding, but also comes with the responsibility of being able to pay for appropriate medical care.  Veterinarians can save your pet’s life in an emergency, but they must be able to recover their costs to stay in business. Planning for high cost emergencies and/or unexpected diagnoses recurring long term care can alleviate worry and allow you to enjoy pet ownership more, knowing that you will be able to care for your pet no matter what comes.

 

Marcia Mayeda

 

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But What About the Animals?

But What About the Animals? (Post-COVID)

We have now reached the one-year anniversary of the shutdown of society as we responded to the threat of COVID-19. However, the future is looking very bright. After a devastating holiday season with huge spikes in infections and deaths, Los Angeles County has now entered the Red Tier and is moving to reopen parts of society. Vaccines are being produced and distributed as fast as possible, and it is anticipated that by this summer we will have turned the corner and begin to see more opportunities for life to return to normal.

In anticipation of the ability for pet owners to return to the workplace, many people have expressed their concerns to me regarding what will happen to all the pets that were adopted during the pandemic. They fear that these were impulse adoptions and the owners will surrender them to animal care centers or otherwise give them away.

I do not share this concern. One of the remarkable results of the last year has been our awareness of the importance that pets play in our lives. I believe pet owners will continue the love and devotion they showed this past year, being especially grateful for the companionship their pets provided to them as they were isolated from friends and family.

In fact, a new report by Kinship Partners reveals how devoted pet owners are to their companions. Just consider these findings from the pet parents that were surveyed:

  • 62% said their top priority is their pets’ happiness
  • 71% could not have survived 2020 without their pet(s)
  • 80% said their pets deserve more of their time in 2021
  • 82% said they plan to spoil their pets in 2021
  • 84% said COVID-19 showed them how much their pets improve their lives
  • 90% have built a stronger bond with their pet through 2020

You can read the full report here: (Report).

Lucy

COVID brought changes to my pet household as well. We sadly learned that our beloved Bernese Mountain Dog Lucy, who we had adopted seven years ago from the Agoura Animal Care Center, had untreatable cancer. I am so glad that I had the isolation time to be able to spend every moment with Lucy for the last five months of her life. Although I worked full time, it was from home with Lucy by my side. She received countless belly rubs, hugs, and kisses and we were able to monitor her closely to make sure she was comfortable. As her appetite waned, we prepared special homecooked meals for her and made sure her every need was met.

Holly and Dino

When Lucy passed, there was a huge void in our home. Although we still had Dino, an eight-year old Great Pyrenees (adopted from Great Pyrenees Rescue of Southern California), and Rebecca, a 10-year old Golden Retriever (adopted from the Lancaster Animal Care Center), something was missing. It was the exuberance of Lucy – although she was nine years old, she still acted like a puppy. So, we reached out to Great Pyrenees rescue again and found our new love – Holly. Holly was 16 months old when she joined the pack and has added new energy and antics to the household. A bit of a juvenile delinquent at the beginning, she has learned the rules of the house (no counter surfing or stealing drains from the yard) and we have benefited from the isolation period to make sure she has been well acclimated. She has made fast friends with Dino and Rebecca and is a delight.

I am fortunate that when it is safe to return to the office, I can bring my dogs with me (one of the benefits of working in animal welfare). All the dogs love this and visiting with their human and canine coworkers.

Rebecca, Dino, and Lucy at DACC Headquarters

However, most people can’t take their dogs to work with them. If you are planning to return to work and want to get your pets accustomed to your absence, check out this blog I wrote with advice on transitioning to your new work schedule: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/returning-to-the-workplace/

What about the animals? Whether they come to an outside workplace with you or not, it is clear that new pet parents are devoted to their furry companions. I think the animals have a great year ahead of them!

Marcia Mayeda

 

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Love is Limitless

Sometimes when I ask a person if they have any pets they will tell me about a beloved dog or cat that passed away. They remark sadly that they haven’t adopted a new pet because no other animal could ever replace the one they lost. I find this very unfortunate because these well-meaning animal lovers are depriving themselves of the joy and unconditional love of another animal.

Of course, the new animal will never replace the one that passed. Each animal is a unique being with its own behaviors, idiosyncrasies, likes, dislikes, and more. Each pet that has graced my life has been an amazing companion and no subsequent pet replaced the one who passed. However, each new pet brought a different personality into my life that was full of fun, love, and new adventures.

Finny and Murphy

Finny, my black lab, joined our family when I was 16 years old. He was with me through high school, college, and my first jobs in animal welfare. Finny loved to fetch, swim, chase flashlight beams, and taught himself how to break into my refrigerator. He licked my face constantly but didn’t like to snuggle in bed. He was a devoted companion in my early years, and we forged many unforgettable memories.

Gracie

When Finny passed, I decided I needed to have time to adjust to not having him in my life anymore. However, being without a dog is like being without oxygen for me and four days later a nine-month-old Golden Retriever entered the shelter where I worked. Gracie became my constant companion for the next nine years. Unlike Finny she did not lick my face but loved to snuggle in bed. Gracie loved children and accompanied me to schools and day cares, as well as senior citizen homes and hospitals, to visit and bring joy to the people she met. She would dive underwater to catch fish and protected my car with a ferocity that would impress any police dog.

Later came Montana, the German Shepherd Dog that protected me from a mugging one evening in the grocery store parking lot. She was the hardest driving, most energized dog I’ve ever known. She was also brilliant, learning dog tricks by watching other dogs without any direct training herself. She was completely devoted and very intuitive, and we had to keep making up new words or spelling them because if she heard the words she knew like ball, walk, car, food, etc. she would become unglued in her exuberance.

Kota, Carlisle, Montana, and Gracie

Kota was an Australian Shepherd/Samoyed mix who had a rough life on the streets before joining our home. He never got over his fear of feet but had the best sense of humor and was always up for a game of tug of war. He adored Gracie and Montana and loved bread. His eyes would get a dreamy look every time we drove past the Wonder Bread factory and the aroma of baking bread wafted into my car. His favorite treat was King’s Hawaiian bread, which we would keep on hand as his special treat.

Carlisle the Newfoundland had a calm, dignified presence that hid his inner child. He would not play with any of our other dogs when we were watching, but if he thought we couldn’t see him he would happily play like a puppy with Montana. Carlisle also had a game of taking other peoples’ belongings and hoarding them. My dogs have always come to work with me, and I would constantly find items under my desk that Carlisle had stolen from my coworkers.  A cane, a tin container full of coins, a tarp, a rock that propped someone’s door open, and my boss’s dog’s heartworm medication, among others. Before I knew what Carlisle was up to, I was annoyed that my coworkers thought they could use the area under my desk as a dumping ground for their items. Then one day a colleague caught Carlisle in the act of his kleptomania and we discovered his penchant for treasure hunting. He also loved to wear hats; his favorite was a sombrero we purchased on Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

Henry the yellow lab was a “career change” dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, which meant he didn’t pass their training program. Henry hated going for walks, swimming, playing fetch, or just about anything Labrador retrievers like to do. He was nothing like Finny. However, his calm and assuring demeanor made him the perfect pet therapy dog to work with children that were victims of violent homes. One boy had witnessed extreme violence against his mother in the home, was unable to focus in school, would not be separated from his mother, and was seriously falling behind in his emotional and social development. After several months of working with Henry, the little boy began engaging in school and was able to attend his first birthday party. He had a picture of Henry next to his bed and kissed it every night before he went to sleep.

Henry, Sebastian, Isabella

Sebastian, the first of four Great Pyrenees dogs we would adopt. Sebastian liked to sleep on the cool tiles of our bathroom floor with his back against the wall. In the middle of his sleep, he would roll over so his feet and legs were pressed so close to the wall that he could not get up or reposition himself to roll the other way. He woke us up several nights each week with his attempts to free himself, and I would stumble out of bed to pull all 120 pounds of him away from the wall so he could again lay in a normal position.

Isabella, another Great Pyrenees, joined Sebastian in protecting our home and thwarted two burglary attempts. Isabella loved children more than anything; she was initially found as a stray at an elementary school. Her favorite day of the year was Halloween, when she would sit on the porch with me to hand out candy and get petted by all the neighborhood children. There was often a line at our home because the kids all wanted to pet her. She loved going to an annual Christmas party with dozens of children. One time, a parent set their little boy next to Isabella, who gently placed her paw over the boy’s leg as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. He is safe with me.”

Rebecca was surrendered at our Lancaster animal care center by her owners at five months of age because they didn’t have time for her. Another Golden Retriever, Rebecca became the bane of Sebastian’s existence. Rebecca liked to grab Sebastian by the tail and drag him backwards across the tile floor. He was too gentle and kind to correct her but would look at us with pleading eyes to “please make her stop!” We would find him hiding in the bathroom or pantry to avoid her.

Lucy, a Bernese Mountain Dog, was adopted from our Agoura animal care center as a playmate for Rebecca and relief for Sebastian. Lucy was first passed over by one adopter, then returned by the second adopter because of her intense personality.

Lucy, Dino, and Rebecca

However, Lucy was a perfect fit for our home. Lucy loved with a passion unlike any other dog I’ve had. She followed me so closely that she would pop the back of my shoes off when I walked. Once time, when I returned home after being away for several days, she was so excited to see me that she sprained her tail from wagging it in excitement. Poor Lucy would cry every time she wagged her injured tail or sat down, and I had to take her to the emergency veterinarian for pain and anti-inflammatory medications.

Dino, our third Great Pyrenees, was surrendered to rescue when his owners were moving. He had the benefit of a great upbringing and came to us with very good manners. He was horrified when we told him he was allowed on the bed; this was NOT what he was taught. He rarely gets on the bed, and if he does, he has a guilty look on his face each time. He just doesn’t enjoy it.

Holly and Dino

Holly, another Great Pyrenees, just joined our pack at Thanksgiving, 2020. At one and a half years old, she started off quite timidly but has built her confidence over the past months. She enjoys grabbing Rebecca‘s tail as she’s running, which is poetic justice for the indignities Rebecca inflicted on Sebastian years ago. Holly has learned the best way to get a toy away from another dog is not a direct grab, but instead to back up to the dog and sit on it. Dino or Rebecca get irritated and leave the toy, and Holly accomplishes her objective without a fight. It has been fun watching her personality bloom and I look forward to discovering the dog that she will become as she matures.

Alexis and Thai

Throughout the years, several cats also shared our home and brought their own unique personalities to the family. Murphy was a short haired black and white cat who slept with his arms around my neck every night. He was best friends with Finny and even came on walks with us. Thai was a male Siamese mix who was very loving to me, but invisible whenever people came to visit. Alexis was a long haired black and white cat who I adopted as a friend for Thai. Thai, all thirteen pounds of him, took one look at this hissing kitten, vomited, ran away to hide under the bed, and didn’t come out for a day. I named Alexis after Alexis Carrington, the character played by Joan Collins on the Dynasty TV series (a popular show at the time) because she was also very beautiful and very controlling. She and Thai became fast friends, and she ruled over all our big dogs for the next seventeen and a half years.

Each of these animals lived their lives with us until old age or illness took them. Each loss was very difficult, and none of the animals were “replaced” by the others that came after. Each animal holds a special place in my heart, but there will always be room for another. If I had stopped at Finny and Murphy, I never would have known Gracie, Montana, Kota, Thai, Alexis, Carlisle, Henry, Sebastian, Isabella, Rebecca, Lucy, or Holly. I would have missed out on all these wonderful, unique relationships.

That’s the thing about love; it is limitless. Each new pet creates a different relationship full of love, joy, and companionship. It will not be like the last one, but it will be equally as important in a different way. If you have been putting off getting another pet because it will not be the same as your last one, please reconsider. Open yourself to the unknown possibilities of this new relationship and all the love it will bring to your life.

Marcia Mayeda

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Have You Hugged Your Pets Today?

Have You Hugged Your Pets Today?

I think everyone gave a sigh of relief at midnight on December 31, 2020. The most troubling and stressful year in recent memory was finally over. A devastating pandemic, social and physical isolation, widespread unemployment and business loss, a national spotlight on the very real issue of racial inequality, damaging riots and looting, and an extremely divisive and disputed presidential election all weighed heavily on peoples’ emotions. We all looked forward to seeing improvements in 2021. Then January 6, 2021 and an unprecedented assault on our very foundation of democracy hit us like a ton of bricks. A new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus is threatening us in 2021, as well as fears of continued assaults on our government and the rule of law.

Amidst these worrisome and frightening scenarios, there is a source of unconditional love in our homes that can help ease our minds as we grapple with the uncertain world. Of course, I am talking about our pets.

Pets have long been recognized as important resources for reducing anxiety and stress. Just petting or playing with a pet can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and release endorphins that have calming effects on our bodies and minds. Exercising with pets, such as walking a dog or riding a horse, enhance our physical health and help to reduce depression. Pets are especially impactful as we face the challenges of social isolation, providing companionship and structured routines throughout each day. The unconditional love of an animal helps us buffer the stressors that enter our lives.

The healthy impact of pets is remarkable. Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets. Heart attack patients with pets survive longer that those without. Pet owners over the age of 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior when participating in animal related programs.

Pets are used to assist veterans with PTSD and serve as emotional support animals to others. Horses in therapeutic riding programs provide disabled riders with a sense of freedom and mobility they could otherwise not experience.

Pets aren’t limited to dogs and cats. Horses are wonderful companions, as I can attest. Rabbits make great pets for those who are allergic to dogs and cats. Keeping and watching fish have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and calm your heart rate. Having pets give our lives purpose and meaning. Adopting or fostering pets from your local animal care center can add a sense of fulfillment by providing a loving home to an animal in need. If you are ready to add a pet to your home, I encourage you to visit one of Los Angeles County’s seven animal care centers to bring an added sense of enrichment into your life.

As we enter 2021, let’s refocus on the joy that animals bring to our lives. Pull yourself away from the distractions of today and connect with the animals in your life. We all benefit from their constant love, devotion, and companionship. And, they benefit from ours.

 

Marcia Mayeda

 

 

 

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Heroes Among Us

Heroes Among Us

The holidays always bring one of my favorite memories back to me, making me smile and reflect on a special Christmas Eve that is as clear as yesterday although more than thirty five years have passed.

This particular Christmas Eve I was a junior in college, pursuing my Bachelor of Animal Science degree at Western Illinois University (WIU). I remained at the university over the holiday break because I was working both at the local animal shelter as well as the university’s sheep farm and the animals needed me. I say “worked”, but both positions brought me so much joy being with the animals that I didn’t consider it to be that. In fact, I often forgot to submit my timesheets for payment at the animal shelter (to the great frustration of my supervisor) and technically I didn’t get paid for working on the sheep farm – it was for college credit. Nevertheless, I took these responsibilities very seriously and learned a lot from both opportunities.

Animal Control Officer II Van Harrison is DACC’s longest serving ACO, dedicating his career of more than 44 years to help the animals and people in Los Angeles County.

Because it was Christmas break, most students had gone home to their families and I was the only one remaining in my small apartment building. Alone in the building, I was settling in for a cold midwestern Christmas Eve when I received a call from the County dispatch center to respond to an animal control call. It was the most bizarre call I had ever received.

The call was to go pick up a stray Lavender goat. A Lavender goat? I racked my brain trying to remember the various breeds of goats I might have learned about. WIU did not offer a goat science class, so I turned to my recollections of the James Herriot books I had devoured in high school. James Herriot, the British veterinarian who wrote books about his experiences as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, treated livestock as well as pets and perhaps he wrote about Lavender goats. Since most sheep breeds are named after the area in England from which they came (Suffolk, Hampshire, Cheviot, etc.), I thought this might help me identify the breed history of the Lavender goat. However I was unaware of any area in England called Lavender, could not recall any James Herriot stories about goats, and no other answers came to mind.

As I was driving to the call, I was struck by the quiet beauty of the evening. The streets were deserted, and a fresh snowfall covered everything in glittering, pristine snow. A full moon illuminated the peaceful, sparkling landscape and I was all alone in this winter wonderland as I drove to the call in anticipation and puzzlement.

Just then, a song came on the radio. It was “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs. You know the tune; various pitches of dog barks are composed in the pattern of “Jingle Bells”. I couldn’t help laughing – this just made the evening perfect. The lone animal control officer in an iridescent landscape on a surreal call on Christmas Eve, listening to barking dogs singing “Jingle Bells” on the radio.

When I arrived at the location of the call, I had still not been able to recall the breed of goat called Lavender and was eager to see the goat and add this information to my knowledge in the animal science field. Then I saw the goat. It was purple. Purple! The WIU colors are purple and gold, and obviously this goat was spray painted purple as part of a college prank. That settled the mysterious case of the Lavender breed of goat.

The goat was unharmed, but needed a place to be sheltered, fed, and kept safe. The animal shelter was only designed to house dogs and cats, so I brought the goat to the university sheep ranch where I created a warm pen for her and fed her. She was later adopted to a local family.

Each time I remember this experience, I think of all the animal care and control employees who are working alone on Christmas Eve and every other holiday, evening, and weekend. Animal care is a 24/7 responsibility and these dedicated people ensure the animals are safe and cared for, even when it is personally inconvenient for themselves. They are away from their families and loved ones so the animals can be protected.

This year, animal care and control staff deserve even more recognition and acknowledgement. They have continued to serve and safeguard animals in the face of one of the worst pandemics this world has ever seen. Our team has had to make many adjustments, implement new protocols, and identify a new normal for our care center operations. Throughout it all, our compassionate and dedicated staff have risen to the occasion despite extreme difficulties and uncertainties. The same gratitude goes out to our healthcare workers, first responders, and everyone else who is working for the common good to provide service and care during this time.

If you are one of these people, thank you for your ongoing service to keeping us safe. If not, please join me in gratitude for their efforts. There are many unsung heroes among us, including the lone animal control officer you may see this year on Christmas Eve.

Marcia Mayeda

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