Change a Pet’s Life Day

Egads! I missed Change a Pet’s Life Day! (Things have been a little hectic because Boudicca was sick on Tuesday. Thankfully, she is getting better now.)

Change a Pet’s Life Day (belated) is a pet holiday celebrated on January 24 and intended to encourage adopting pets from shelters and consequently, raising awareness for animal shelters. As a shelter volunteer, I can testify that there are so many wonderful animals that need loving homes. There are pets that would do well with new pet owners and others that would thrive with experienced pet owners. There are young, old, middle-aged, everywhere in between. If you are not a cat or dog person, shelters often have other pets that might strike your fancy such as guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even pigs and chickens. Here is how you can change a pet’s life:

  1. Adopt. Head to your local shelter and adopt a pet! Many shelters offer special discounts on January 24th while others will hold adoption events throughout the week or on the weekend. Rescue groups will probably have similar events so be sure to look for these. (NB: Adoption is a commitment. One should not adopt a pet without really being sure that this is what you want and that you will be able to care for this pet.)
  2. Foster. Unsure if you want to commit to having a pet? Does your shelter need temporary homes due to space or other needs, such as a pregnant cat or dog? Giving a shelter animal a foster home is a demonstration of compassion and generosity. Whether you foster one time or do it regularly, it does make a difference in pets’ lives!
  3. Donate. Find out what your shelter needs. Does the shelter have a wish list or a Friends of the Animal Shelter organization that could provide this information? Food, toys, collars, leashes, scratch pads or poles, and carriers are commonly asked for items. Money, of course, is always immensely appreciated because it can be used for whatever the shelter needs at the time or for future use.
  4. Volunteer. Do you like to be involved in your community? Do you love animals? Volunteering is a fantastic way to change pets lives on a continuing basis. I enjoy having the opportunity to love on and socialize cats and help out at adoption events so that these lovely kitties get matched to the right homes.
  5. Transform your pet’s life. Would your pet benefit from more exercise or attention? Would a play date with another cat or dog or a new toy make your pet’s day? I’m fairly certain that one of the highlights of Boudicca’s day is when she gets her lap time session in the evening. The boys are equally thrilled by visits and play time.

Rescued Pets in My Life

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This is Chiya! She is one of my parents’ two rescue dogs. She is a sassy and independent Tibetan Spaniel. Originally her name was Holly but my mom changed it to Chiya, which is Spanish slang for “crier,” in honor of her distinctive shrill alarm bark. (Tibetan Spaniels were bred to be watchdogs as well as canine companions.) She excels at being a foot warmer too.

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Here is dog #2, Chiquita! (We call her Chica for short.) She is a Kooikerhondje, which I promise is a dog breed that I did not make up. My parents took her in after her previous owner became very ill with cancer and shortly thereafter passed away. Look at those marvelous ears and that tail! She is such a well-behaved dog and an excellent snuggler as well.

Last year, I volunteered at the Clear the Shelters event on August 19 at my local animal shelter. I intended to show cats and match them to new owners. I did not intend to take home a new cat, let alone two, but I am SO GLAD that we decided to foster and later adopt Charlie and Garrus. They have made a lot of progress since then and both are happier, healthier cats.

In this photo you can see hints of how skinny and scraggly Garrus (then known as Aristotle) was. When he stood up, swaths of fur along his sides were missing (licked it off due to stress in the shelter) and in general his coat looked haggard. He was so skinny that his ribs and knobbly spine were clearly visible. Both he and Charlie looked SO pitiful at the shelter. We quickly learned that Garrus was not eating much and in a lot of pain due to dental issues, which we promptly fixed.

This was the first time Charlie (then known as Tink) emerged from behind or underneath furniture for a significant length of time. A huge scaredy cat when we brought him home, he was highly reactive to people (us), sudden movements, many noises, new objects, and any change. Both boys bolted whenever we stood up; they would only timidly approach if we sat down on the floor and remained very quiet.

Fast forward four months: here are the boys sprawled in the sun. (I took this photo in late December 2017.) Rather than fleeing when I approached, they stretched, slow blinked, trilled and squeaked (Charlie), welcomed scritches, and purred.

Lastly, look at Queen B! In November 2000, a lovey five-month old tuxedo kitten chose ME as her person at the ASPCA. Seventeen years later she is still my girl!

How can YOU change a pet’s life today?

Adopt a Senior Pet Month

IMG_1841November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month!

Before I start talking about senior pets, it’s important to understand the basics of pet lifespans. Pets age and grow similar to how humans develop over time. They start out as babies (puppy- and kittenhood), go through a youthful period (adolescence), reach adulthood, and continue to their twilight years (senior and geriatric period). Cats, in particular, can live a long time–15 or more years. Here’s how cat life ages break down:

  1. Kitten: Birth to 6 months [human equivalent: 0-10 years]
  2. Junior: 7 months to 2 years [human equivalent: 12-24 years]
  3. Prime: 3-6 years [human equivalent: 28-40 years] 
  4. Mature: 7-10 years [human equivalent: 44-56 years]
  5. Senior: 11-14 years [human equivalent: 60-72 years]
  6. Geriatric: 15 years+ [human equivalent: 76 years for a 15 year old cat to 116 years for a 25 year old cat!]

Charlie is the equivalent of a 24 year old, although I must admit he seems more like a furry toddler. Garrus, being 6, is the mature one of the boys, being the equivalent of a 40 year old in human years. Boudicca is 17, which would make her roughly 84 in human years! 

Dogs’ lifespans are a bit different and depend on the breed and the dog’s size. Large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans than smaller dog breeds. For example, a large dog breed, say a 1-year-old Golden Retriever, would be 18 in human years. An 11-year-old Golden Retriever would be 96! A Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound may only live 8 years. By contrast, a small dog breed like a West Highland White Terrier would be the human equivalent of 12 at 1 year old and 96 at age 16.

In animal shelters, adult pets and especially seniors are considerably more likely to be overlooked and, consequently, take a longer time to find their furever home. I think a lot of this has to do with myths about senior pets and just how “old” a pet is.

As part of my volunteer work at the Pflugerville Animal Shelter, I help out in the cat room and show adoptable animals there, especially during adoption events. Almost every person who comes in to look at a cat asks first, “Do you have any kittens?” (NB: I have nothing against kittens. Kittens are friggin’ adorable and they deserve good homes too.) Please look at adult cats!

A number of people I’ve spoken to in the cat room positively balked at adopting an 8-year-old cat and often wouldn’t even look at a cat over the age of 5. I have had at least one person directly state that they were under the impression that adult animals (cats and dogs alike) would not bond with new owners but only kittens and puppies would because they were more “moldable”. This idea floored me. I had never heard that before and, in my experience, certainly not true.

Whether a pet is 6 months old or 6 years old, a pet can certainly bond with a new owner. Take my two former foster cats, Charlie and Garrus. They are two and six years old, respectively. Charlie had been adopted at least three times, albeit briefly, and Garrus had at least one prior owner. When we first took them home, they were timid, skittish, and prone to hiding. We sat on the floor and waited for them to feel confident and comfortable enough to come out. This patience paid off because they started to show affection toward us and slowly started to bond. (Getting shy animals to build trust and bond can be a challenge.) By contrast, when I adopted Boudicca, I’m fairly sure she had already started to bond with me before we left the ASPCA. (She was about 5 months old at the time and it should not be overlooked that she chose me.)

When I work in the cat room, I often get to love on cats who are so eager to love on anyone and grateful for any attention, whether it is playtime, chin scritches, or being held. Most of them definitely want to engage with humans; the rest may be anxious, afraid, or need more socialization in order to feel comfortable with human company. Socializing and loving on cats are my primary duties as a volunteer. Now that I’ve worked with shy and timid cats, I’m happy to help other cats come out of their shells so they can find a loving home!

There are a number of advantages to adopting a senior pet. Here are a few:

  1. Personality. A senior pet has an established personality and disposition. Older animals tend to be calmer as well. Even-tempered, low-key pets are companions with whom you can relax. They also often make excellent snuggle buddies. Who wouldn’t want that?!
  2. Manners. Older pets know basic manners and household etiquette. That is because they are generally familiar with home environments and some kind of training. Many already have experience living with other animals and children. Kittens and puppies, while adorable, don’t have manners yet because they lack experience. They need to be taught manners and doing that requires a lot of work. 
  3. Size and activity level. An adult or senior pet has achieved their adult size and generally has an established activity level. These are important things to consider when adopting, as a unique pet’s needs (high energy, big size) may impact your lifestyle (will need lots of exercise and space). It is also important to consider whether an energetic or laid-back animal would best suit your lifestyle and if your lifestyle suits that animal. Look at the differences in energy levels between Charlie, Garrus, and Boudicca. Charlie likes to be busy, Garrus enjoys both playing and chilling out, and the highlight of Boudicca’s day is regularly scheduled lap time. 
  4. Trainability. Because senior pets have well-developed personalities, manners, and experience, they are generally easier to train and require less monitoring than kittens or puppies. Young animals frequently get into something they’re not supposed and can’t always distinguish between a safe situation and a dangerous one. An adult pet, by contrast, is more likely to know what “no” means and be less of a troublemaker.
  5. Housebroken. Senior pets don’t have teething issues and are already house-trained. In short, they tend to be less destructive. (A group of kittens is called a destruction for a reason! Kittens can be nuts.) Older pets are generally more in sync with human daytime and nighttime patterns of activity and sleep.
  6. Not problem pets. Senior pets are not necessarily “problem pets” as some tend to think. A senior pet may lose their homes for any number of reasons: novelty of a pet wearing off, allergies, death of an owner, new baby, loss of a job, a move, or a change in work schedule, to name a few. None of these reasons indicate that there was something wrong with the pet. With Charlie and Garrus, their last owners were seniors and in ill health; I believe both went into nursing homes and could not take their cats with them, so they were surrendered.
  7. Health. Senior pets are not necessarily sick and decrepit. Some pets have health challenges their whole lives while others are pretty healthy well into their twilight years. Any health issues a senior pet has may already be diagnosed and receiving treatment. Being fully prepared and knowing what you’re getting when adopting a pet is empowering.
  8. Save a life! Adopting a senior pet saves lives. Seriously. Senior pets are more likely to be put down if they cannot find a home and the shelter faces overcrowding.
  9. Love in action. Adopting a senior pet or a special needs pet can be the ultimate act of generosity and love. They need loving homes just as much as kittens and puppies do!