Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Doggone Good Time

A Little Extra Time in Florida

Dudley on the boardwalk, Inverness
Rafael and friends
Some people come into your life for a reason and sometimes in the most unexpected of ways.  When I meet someone special, there is often a dog involved.  That happened last week in Inverness, Florida when I was detained in my return home due to car problems. I was fortunate to meet Samantha  Carter and Rafael Cabrara, friends and partners in the rescue and adoption of dogs in Citrus County.  We met most unexpectedly when Ralph's dogs introduced themselves as I was walking my own lovable rescue, Dudley
Orange season in Florida

Sam Carter, cat woman
I was so glad to have a chance to get to know this double dog duo.  Wowed by their knowledge about dogs and passion for their well being, I spent some extra time with them during the following days and learned about dog behavior, shelters, and the needs in Citrus County, Florida.  I vowed to myself to use some of Rafael's techniques to add a few more good behaviors to Dudley's repertoire after seeing the amazing results he had with his own dogs and those he worked with. And as always when I travel back to Florida, I was reminded that people there are exceedingly nice and more interested in who you are than what you are.

About Citrus County Animal Services

Volunteers walk and play with dogs at CCAS shelter

Rafael met me at the Citrus County Animal Services (CCAS) shelter and introduced me to their smart and caring staff and the dogs he knows so much about.  Several days a week he volunteers his time to assess recent acquisitions for their adoptability.  Often he also works with the dogs to help them with their manners, although much depends upon the adoptive families to take charge and work with their dogs.   

Like many shelters, Citrus County  is county government-funded.  As such, no animals can be refused.  There are cages out front where anonymous "donors" can leave stray or unwanted pets at any hour of the day.  Every morning there are 1-2 dogs that have been dropped off as if they were used clothing going to the thrift shop - except a family pet does not understand the concept of being discarded.  But this anonymity encourages people to ensure that the animals are cared for by the shelter rather than ignored.

Jo with a clean pup
Jo cuddles a puppy
One of the first people I met at the shelter was Jo Budny.  Now retired, Jo wanted to be a vet when she was a child, but "girls weren't encouraged to be vets back then." When her children were grown, she started volunteering as a dog walker.  "I couldn't just sit and watch TV," she explained as she bathed one of a litter of five dirty puppies.  She cheerfully washed the squirming pups and cuddled them in soft. 

Shiloh a beautiful, friendly German shepherd, was released to the shelter by an elderly man who was unable to care for her.  She was chained to a dog house for five years and has resulting ligament tears that require surgery.  I wanted to take her home with me to be Dudley's companion.  Friends of Citrus County Animal Services (FOCCAS), the nonprofit arm of the shelter, is raising money for her surgery and to support her ongoing care.  She will be ready for adoption after her upcoming surgeries.  If you are interested in knowing more about Shiloh, contact Mike at CCAS 352-746-8400.

Dogs arrive at the shelter for a variety of reasons.  Many owners are surprised when they end up with puppies and kittens yet did not have their animal spayed.  The shelter receives animals when financial circumstances change, owners pass away or move, and people realize they are unable to care for their animals.  Stray animals are held then put up for adoption if not claimed.  
Rafael and Abbey

According to the ASPCA, 20% of the animals in shelters nationwide were adopted from the shelter and returned.  FOCCAS, with Raphael's company Casita Big Dog Rescue, attempts to reduce recidivism with training and counseling in advance of an adoption.   Ralph, Samantha and the other volunteers work hard to identify the most adoptable dogs, work with them, ensure the future owners are properly prepared to care for the pets, and help train their owners to be in charge.  

Tag removed from a surrender dog
One of the saddest things shelter volunteers and staff face is the surrender of previously adopted pets.  Abbey, a basset hound mix, was brought back to the shelter after her owner realized he couldn't properly care for the dog.  She was crated more than 8 hours every day, developed behavioral issues typical of neglected dogs, and did not receive the exercise she needed.  I had tears in my eyes as I saw the forlorn look on the dog's face when her owner walked away.  Rafael made sure to counsel the man that he should not consider adopting another dog. 


Rafael conversing with cats
Tom cat
Apologies in advance to the cat people.  Cats are not my focus although there are many cats at all shelters in need of adoption, including this handsome tom, at the CCAS shelter.  Cats arrive at the CCAS shelter at the rate of 10 per day (not including kittens).  Cats produce a lot of kittens and the county has been known to house a few hoarding owners who may contribute 15 or more cats at a time when they must be removed from the home. Riva, a 14-year volunteer, is dedicated to caring for the cats and keeps their quarters clean and all of her feline charges well fed and loved.

Bully Breed Dogs

Big Lug
Bully dogs (bulldogs, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and mixed bully breeds usually referred to generically as "Pit Bulls") make up about 60% of the dogs at the shelter.  Most will never be adopted because of their reputation, aggressive tendencies, or behavioral issues.  Dog aggression is a problem with many bully dogs but they are also loyal to their owners when trained and cared for properly.  Raphael explained that most of the problem with bully dog behavior stems from owners' lack of understanding about how to socialize, train and live with the dog.  "Never let your guard down with a bully dog," he said.  "Not for one minute." 

Available for adoption
Rafael adopted Big Lug, a 110 pound bulldog, from the shelter 4 years ago.  I spent some time with Big Lug, who looks gruff and a little menacing but is quite sweet and gentle with humans and loves a good scratch as much as any dog could.  Rafael reminded me that pit bulls or bully dogs are not for everyone and that potential bully dog owners should know what they are getting into before they adopt.

Adoptable Dogs  

Rafael checking Meeko's teeth 
I had an opportunity to observe Raphael and Bill Rock working with two of the shelter's residents to determine their adoptability and appropriateness for certain situations such as living with young children.  For the better part of an hour, they tested the dog's food aggressive tendencies, child-aggressiveness (they do this by pulling, poking and prodding the dog as a young child might do), and aggression toward other dogs and cats.  To my surprise Meeko, the bully dog they tested, was one of the calmest, sweetest, most trainable dogs I had ever met.  He passed with flying colors and hopefully will soon be placed in a loving home.  The cat-aggression test was the most amazing.  (Dudley would have misbehaved with the test cat.)  Meeko dog paid no attention to the cat, who was none too keen on hanging around to find out his reaction.  

Explaining what he looks for in adoptability, Rafael said he is concerned about a dog's behavior around children first, other dogs second, and people in general third.  If a dog cannot be trusted around children, he does not believe it should be a pet.  Bad behavior can usually be traced to something initiated by a human.  Often it because the owner has not let the dog know he is in charge.

Adoptable rooster
A lady came to the shelter seeking a dog companion to live on her farm where she raises chickens.  She was attracted to and bonded with several of the dogs at the shelter including a bully.  But when the dogs were exposed to the resident roosters to test their chicken-chasing interests, they immediately chased them.  Raphael recommended that the woman adopt a puppy that would grow up learning to respect the chickens as siblings, not dinner.

Ready to go HOME
That morning, Bill placed three dogs in new homes.  Watching his face when he reported the success was half of the fun; clearly this is a man who loves dogs and values the assurance that they have good homes.
Painless chip installation
  One of the adoptees was this happy Jack Russell terrier.  As part of the release process, they installed a tiny chip under his skin, between their shoulder blades.  A quick scan can identify his owner, ensuring he is more quickly returned if lost.   

Rascal chose his family
Robert and Sharon Lee dropped by the shelter with their shelter-adopted terrier, Rascal.  They claim Rascal chose them when they came to adopt.  They clearly are very pleased with their adoption and have enrolled Rascal in the shelter's obedience classes.

How You Can Help 


Volunteers are needed to walk and play with dogs
The shelter needs dog walkers to help give its temporary residents a much-needed break every day.  At Citrus County Animal Shelter, because of the shortage of volunteers, most dogs are only walked once per day.

Adopt with care

Dogs need lots of attention
Please do consider adoption.  Read about dog and cat breeds and considerations.  If you are away for 8 or more hours each day and not able to pay a dog walker or find a way to give a dog relief, you probably should not adopt a dog, no matter how much you will love it.  Resources for finding pets: your local animal shelter's website,  and

Train your dog 

Rafael with Meeko
Good pet and shelter public relations means having a well-behaved pet that promotes good will in the community and encourages others to consider adoption.  If you adopt from CCAS, you receive training, reference materials and an opportunity to return for obedience help. Most shelters either offer dog training classes or guidance on where to get them.

Be smart when you donate

Adoptable puppy
Know where your money is going when you contribute to help animals at a shelter.  To help animals at the CCAS, donate to Friends of Citrus County Animal Services (FOCCAS), the nonprofit that supports the shelter.  If you give directly to the shelter you are making a contribution to the county to offset the budget and your contribution is not tax-deductible.  If you are contributing to support your local shelter, find out what they do, how much is spent in administration, and how much actually is used to help rescued pets.  To help make sure you are giving to a reputable organization:  in Florida or Nationwide.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress 
can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Mahatama Gandhi

Adios for Now

Dudley on the road again
A few days after my visit to the shelter, my Toyota chariot was running again and Dudley and I were driving north to face the cold and snow.  My life is richer because I have new friends in Citrus County and I look forward to hearing the good news about future adoptions of Shiloh, Meeko, Abbey, and the others.  Dudley and I will miss our daily walks on the trail in superior winter weather.  We'll be back and you can be sure that Rafael, Samantha and Bill will be on our list of special people to visit.