The Pet Savers
“The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”-Edmund Burke
Did you know that you have a secret identity that is so secret, even you may not know about it?? You are the Pet Savers. I am officially commissioning you to go out into Omaha and beyond, to do what you are most likely already doing: keeping an eye out for pets who are being neglected or abused. If this newsletter ignites or renews your outrage, my goal will be reached. This is a horrible topic, but I do not have many horrible stories for you. There are a few, but they are meant only to motivate you and equip you for what needs to be done.
My first horrible story is one you may remember. It is the March 1997 account of the Iowa feline rescue group, Noah’s Ark. Two drunken guys with baseball bats broke into their shelter. Seventeen of the cats were beaten to death. I was attending Iowa State University as a veterinary student at the time. The cats who were beaten but survived were brought to us for emergency treatment. Every cat who made it to ISU lived and did well, and we, as a group of students and teachers, adopted all of them. I knew then that I would never be passive about animal mistreatment, nor fail to tell others how they could help.
Included in your mission as Animal Savers, I believe, is taking down puppy mills and dog fighting rings and punk kids who beat cats to death and get misdemeanors because no one can figure out the monetary value of a stray cat. (Can you find the five things wrong with that sentence??) But that aspect of your mission is a newsletter for another day. Just as important as defeating the headline-making villains, is quietly protecting pets one at a time in your everyday life. I want to help you speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
Fortunately, you, the Pet Savers, have some other pretty powerful super heroes on your side. Right here in Omaha, we have the best animal shelter in the country, the Nebraska Humane Society. We also have a very impressive population of animal rescue groups, veterinary hospitals, pet-related businesses and individual animal lovers, all of whom are working together to look out for pets. While such groups exist throughout the country, we have no shortage of such wonderful groups right here in Omaha… I will be telling you more about these in future newsletters.
Fortunately, as a veterinarian, I have seen very few active abuse and neglect cases. The reason I have not is that you are my clients. You are the owners who bring your pets to me for treatment and preventative care. Abusers and neglecters do not. They do not tend to seek veterinary medical care at all, which is part of the reason you are so desperately needed. You will see these pets in the “real world.”
Though I have seen few abuse and neglect cases in my practice, I do know they are out there. One of our best clients owns an adorable little three-legged dog. She was abandoned after being beaten so badly that our medical team was unable to save one of her back legs. Her leg was amputated, and she was adopted by the most loving family we knew. Now she is in a multi-dog household, always has her (12) nails painted, shows up at every dog event in Omaha, and is living the life she should have had from puppyhood.
Amy Schultz, spoiled rotten, as she should be! Summer 2006
As a puppy, our own family pet, Noodle the Poodle, was abused. He was let out only once a day to potty and was dropkicked if he had an accident indoors. We learned his history in bits and pieces after we adopted him when he was five years old. We changed his name to Noodle, partially so he could make a clean break from his past, and partially because I love words that rhyme with “Poodle.”
It took about two years to help Noodle work through his fear of men. Most dogs with his history would not recover to the point of being able to be near men, much less trust them. He loves my Dad, my Father-in-Law and my brothers, and has bonded closely with my husband Russ. He is calm and friendly with children, also unusual for canine abuse survivors. He still flinches when I forget and try to pat his head from above. Remember that dogs who have been beaten over the head prefer to be approached slowly and to have their chin or side of their face scratched first. With all the great dog stuff I have learned over the years, that is one tidbit I really wish that I had never needed to learn. We still get frustrated at the occasional puddles of Poodle piddle (fun to say for the first one hundred times, then the novelty wears off), but Noodle has come a remarkably long way for having had such a difficult past.
Noodle the Poodle, Cool, Calm and Collected, Summer 2009
Before I moved from Littleton, Colorado to Omaha, my boss in Littleton treated a twelve-week-old Golden Retriever puppy for diarrhea (stress colitis, it turns out). He received a fax a few days later sent out from an emergency clinic to every veterinary hospital in town, trying to find any other vet who had seen that puppy. My boss called the doctor at the emergency hospital. It turns out this family had had two Golden Retriever puppies die of injuries recently, and this one had just been treated at the emergency hospital for broken ribs. The emergency doctor was trying to keep tabs on this pup so that she could be saved. The family came in twice more for stress colitis medication, but denied anything was going on at home. I called the police. (Remember with abuse cases, be careful and be safe, but do not be polite, and do not mind your own business!) The police told me that they could not arrest the owners without more than circumstantial evidence. So I called all three local news stations. And they called the owners. They denied hurting any of the three pups, so there was not a news story to tell. So Russ and I drove to their house. (Do not do this. We shouldn’t have.) And we sat outside their fancy iron-gated backyard in our car for hours on end, waiting for the puppy to come out. But while we were there, she never came outside. Shortly thereafter, we moved home to Nebraska.
I was an emotional wreck. At a meeting in Omaha just after we moved here, one of my favorite speakers made a joke about kicking a dog (which, in context, was funny only because he is the last person in the world who ever would). I started sobbing in the middle of this group of strangers, and, because I couldn’t pull myself together, Russ and I had to leave. The speaker called the next day and said, “Was that you?! They said someone left crying. You know I wouldn’t hurt a dog! I am so sorry I even said that!”
I failed to save that baby Golden, but I know at least four very, very good veterinarians and three news stations were watching that family very closely. So I hope she has been moved into a loving home and that she is chasing balls and starting to go gray around her muzzle like middle-aged Golden Retrievers do. I hope at the very least that she is free from her original owners.
One last story… one of my nurses in Littleton had this unfathomable affinity for Chow-Chows. Her Chows were all friendly, but I couldn’t figure out how she fell in love with the breed in the first place. Then she told me about Homer. Homer is her gorgeous 80-pound golden-blond Chow. Years earlier, her husband noticed that a tiny yellow warm fuzzy was chained in a backyard with no food or water. He drove his motorcycle past the yard for several days, but never saw the puppy off his chain or with something to eat. Finally, afraid he would die, he unhooked the chain, put him under his motorcycle jacket and drove home. This neglected puppy grew to twenty times his original size and is now a huge, beautiful, well-loved family pet.
That was a crime of passion. You do not need to go to such extremes. You can call the Nebraska Humane Society if you see a pet in need. They work with the Omaha police, and they will finish saving the pets you started saving with your original phone call.
And they will respond to your phone calls. This past summer, Russ had to call the Nebraska Humane Society on two separate occasions to rescue hot dogs. (No, not hotdogs…pets…you know…in cars with the windows rolled up in the summertime.) The police were there both times almost before Russ was off the phone.
So please, please keep doing what you are probably already doing. Stay alert to conditions you know are not healthy for pets. We will continue this theme in future newsletters, because there is much to be done and much to learn. As I mentioned, we have wonderful resources in our community. But the Humane Society, the Omaha Police, the rescue programs and the veterinary teams cannot do it all. We need you to remain vigilant… to talk to your friends about pet abuse and neglect…to care enough to not let abusers prosper.
If we all keep looking out for pets who need us, we can get them help while they still have four legs, and their God-given sweet temperaments, and before they start with the puddles of Poodle piddle. (OK, I admit, it is still fun to say.) I am, thankfully, out of stories, and, thankfully, have a very cute Poodle jumping at the back door waiting to be let back inside. He is having a good day.