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Would You Be Ready for Harvey?

Would You Be Ready for Harvey?

You’d have to have had your head in the sand for the past week if you don’t know about Harvey.  This is probably the largest and most costly natural disaster to have ever happened in the United States since we started tracking storms. The category four hurricane did an immense amount of damage to one of the most populated cities in the US. And after the winds died down, the rain continued causing horrendous flooding. Even though people had warning and knew it was coming, the severity of the storm took everyone by surprise and many people were forced to evacuate without much notice.

A major difference between this hurricane and Katrina, which hit 12 years ago, is that this time people were encouraged to take their pets with them. It was a hard lesson learned that people refused to vacate their homes without their pets and new laws came about ensuring that people’s animals would be included in all future disaster plans. It’s interesting and a bit sad, how judgmental people are about others in life-threatening situations. I’ve heard people say repeatedly, no matter the situation, “Oh, I would never leave/give up my pets.” But there are myriad reasons why it could happen that pets get left behind. So, in addition to having to set up facilities for the pets of the evacuees, there is a huge effort to go back through the areas affected and rescue any animals that were left behind. There are several national groups assisting the local agencies and donations are needed to get this work done. Sadly, there isn’t one group overseeing this so donate to a group that you trust – HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends are all there and the Houston SPCA is also in need of support.

In addition to pets in homes, there are the strays that never had a home, livestock and wildlife — all equally affected and in danger. There have been so many heart-warming stories shared on Facebook about people with boats going around to help their neighbors (and strangers) evacuate.  Shelters across America have stepped up to accept animals that were already in the Houston area shelters so that they would have the space to take in the new evacuees. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

It’s great that people could get their pets out of their homes and  stay together in the emergency centers that were set up. But once the immediacy of the moment is over and people move on to stage two of a critical situation, which is cleanup and assessment, the question remains where will these people and pets, go? Many not only lost their homes in this disaster but they lost their jobs too when nearby businesses were destroyed. Without a means to support themselves and no home, these people are at the mercy of family or friends who are willing to take them in – and sometimes the pets are not as welcomed. Often the logistics and expense of keeping the pet they rescued becomes too much and in the end, they get surrendered. What a heartbreaking situation to be in.

It’s a good time to check your own emergency disaster plans and kits. They say to be prepared to be on your own for about three days. Do you have pet food included? A printout of any medications your pets are on? Do you have a designated person outside your immediate area that all family members know to use as a contact person? Carriers and crates for your pets so you can take them with you into a motel or evacuation center? Extra litter and a litter scoop that is easily assessable? Are all your pets microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags to make reuniting you with your pets easy? Reminder that both are free to RP and Cotati City residents at the RP Animal Shelter – glad we can help you check one item off your list!

If hearing about Houston is not enough to get serious about planning for an emergency then you truly are living with your head in the sand. Know that your pets are counting on you to be prepared and able to provide for them during whatever nature throws our way – power outages, heat waves, flooding, hurricanes – or in our area more likely, earthquakes.  I hope you’re ready!

War heroes with four legs

War heroes with four legs

Ever read the book “Yorkie Doodle Dandy”? Ever hear of it? Me neither until I did a google search on animal war heroes. There are more of them than you would think but actually that shouldn’t be a surprise given that animals have accompanied us into battle since we first started domesticating them.
Smoky, a little Yorkie served in the Pacific during WWII. She warned the troops of incoming artillery shells (dogs can hear them coming much sooner than we can) thus saving many lives. She also was useful in pulling telegraph wire through tunnels (advantages of being a small dog). Her cute tricks entertained the troops and just her presence was a soothing influence during hard times. Her handler wrote a book about Smokey’s adventures called “Yorkie Doodle Dandy” to honor his little brave companion.

Smoky isn’t the only animal that has been honored for their service. Chips, a Shepherd Mix, was the most decorated animal in WWII having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and Silver Star for his actions. Stubby, a pit-bull, is the most well-known service dog from WWI and has the Stubby Award for Animal Heroism named after him. He is also preserved and on display with his medals at the Smithsonian Institute.

There have been statues, books and movies made about animals that served during wars. The most recent is “War Horse” a movie about a single horse used during WWI and his unique bond with the boy who raised him – but it’s really a salute to all the equines used during war. “The Invincible Sgt. Bill” is a true story that was made into a short movie about a goat that served during WWI and saved many soldiers’ lives. He was stuffed and is still preserved in Saskatchewan, where the real Bill came from.

We usually think about dogs and horses when we think of military animals but, in fact, every kind of animal has been used at some point. Dolphins, elephants, camels, pigs, pigeons, cats and even slugs! Who knew (except the scientist studying them) that they could detect mustard gas in the air at much lower particles than we could and therefore warn soldiers when they needed to put their masks on? How do you pin a medal on a slug?!

This Memorial Day, when we pause to remember all those who have served and died for our freedoms, let’s remember those with four legs (or no legs, like slugs) that have also served. They didn’t have a choice and often died doing what we bid them to do. They are heroes too and deserve to be honored as such.

Are You a Do-it-yourselfer?

Are You a Do-it-yourselfer?

Are you a do-it-your-selfer?  You can Google just about anything on YouTube and find instructions on how to fix things.  They make everything look so easy that it’s actually surprising that more people aren’t getting into it.  Even down to vaccinating your own animals – seems like an easy way to save some money doesn’t it?  Why pay a vet to just give a simple shot?

I recently posed that question to our vet tech and she responded with so many reasons that I walked away shaking my head wondering why I would have ever thought that doing it myself was a good idea.  Realize that I have vaccinated, or assisted with vaccinating hundreds of animals in the shelter so it wasn’t a technical ability question.  I will share the reasons that it’s not recommended you do it yourself.

First question is what brand and type of vaccine will you use?  Part of what you are paying your vet for is the research he or she puts into the type and brand of vaccines they carry.  Since their name and clinic reputation is on the line, they are going to make sure it’s one that they feel is effective and presents the fewest risks and adverse effects for their clients.  The store that you buy vaccines at hasn’t necessarily done that type of research.

Then there’s the question about how long the vaccine has been sitting on the shelf at the store, how has it been kept (did it accidentally sit out on the loading dock for a couple of hours before it was unpacked?), and how much  does the staff know about the product to answer questions? Vaccine manufacturers will back their product in case of failure or severe adverse reactions, but they want to know that it was appropriately handled all the way from manufacturing to injection.  They will not question it if the vaccine was given at a vet clinic.  If it’s done at home, there is always the question of how the vaccine was kept until it was administered, if it was drawn up properly, if the needle was compromised, how it was injected, etc.  If you’ve had no formal training the company will reject your claims.

My sister’s dog had a severe reaction a couple of year’s ago to the rattlesnake vaccine.  Poor Basmati needed hospitalization for how sick he became and surgery to fix the ulcerated area at the injection site.  Fortunately, the vaccine was given at a reputable vet clinic and the veterinarian worked with the vaccine manufacturer to ensure that treatment was fully covered.  No online store selling vaccines can offer that!

The other important part of going to a veterinarian for vaccines is that for most animals, unless they become seriously ill or injured, they never get an examination.  Since vaccines now are recommended only every 3 years, it is well worth the exam fee to have an experienced pair of hands and eyes going over your pets thoroughly.  The vet should open your pets’ mouths and look down their throats, feel their bladder and kidneys to make sure they are normal size and shape, listen to their hearts and lungs and more.  It can save you lots of money in the long-term if you can discover a fixable problem early!

Go ahead and fix your leaky faucet or try replacing your fence on your own; but leave the health care of your beloved pets to the professionals!

100 years of kindness

100 years of kindness

By Mickey Zeldes  May 7, 2015

This year marks the 100 year anniversary of National “Be Kind to Animals” Week sponsored by the American Humane Association.  Of course the thought isn’t that we should only be kind to animals one week a year but this week gives a focal point to highlight, cajole, educate, promote, urge, publicize, network, communicate, advertise, and otherwise reach out to our community to support the idea of kindness to animals.  Be Kind to Animals Week (BKTAW) is always the first full week of May so this really should have been my column last Friday but the week’s not over!  So here’s my plug.

There is a fascinating overview of a hundred years of celebrating BKTAW at the website.  It highlights the celebrities that have been chairpersons for this event over the years including Shirley Temple (1936), Betty White (1971), John Wayne (1973), Doris Day (1975), Clint Eastwood (1982), and Richard Dreyfuss (1991) among others.  Many of these stars have continued on in animal welfare for their entire careers.  It also includes some of the achievements this movement has garnered over the years. Interesting to see how far we’ve come and what issues are still the same after all these years.

It wasn’t until 1990 that congress passed the resolution officially recognizing the first week of May as National “Be Kind to Animals” Week.  It was California Senator, Pete Wilson, which introduced the bill in which he stated “The people of the United States are indebted to animal protection organizations, state humane organizations, and local animal care and control agencies for promoting respect for animals and pets, educating children about humane attitudes, and caring for lost, unwanted, abused, and abandoned animals.”

There are many ways to show kindness to animals; of course top of the list is to be a responsible pet owner.  Other things include buying humanely raised products, protecting wildlife, adopting shelter animals, protesting and reporting animal abuse, boycotting cruel entertainment, promoting spaying and neutering, role-modeling and teaching humane attitudes and more.  There are classroom lesson plans available for pre-school through grades 5 at the kindness100 site, and we have docents available for classroom presentations or tours of the shelter for both schools and other youth groups.  Call the shelter to arrange a program at 584-1582.

Show your pets you care about them by stopping by the shelter for a pet ID tag and microchip – they are both free to Rohnert Park and Cotati residents (only $5 for a tag and $10 for a chip to non-residents).  We’ll be holding a mini open house over the weekend to promote a couple of renovation projects that we are planning and holding a 50% off adoption special so it’s the perfect time to stop by!

A Day in the Shelter

A Day in the Shelter

By Mickey Zeldes  April 30, 2015

I’m sure people wonder what it’s like running an animal shelter, and I’m often asked what I like best about this job.  The truth is, besides the animals of course, is the variety of things that I get to do.  No two days are the same!  Even volunteers that are here often don’t see the whole of what goes on here.

One day may be spent on cleaning and organizing – during our low animal months we spend a lot of time deep cleaning and sprucing up the facility.  Things we don’t have time to get to when we are packed with kittens in the summertime finally get dealt with.  Often I have meetings to attend, as part of the Dept. of Public Safety; I’m regularly meeting with my supervisors to keep them abreast of the happenings over here.  I like to stay connected with the other shelters in the area so periodically there are meetings with the other managers.  Of course there are employee meetings as well to help our staff of part-timers stay in touch with each other and to discuss problems and brainstorm solutions.

Lots of time gets spent on the animals – deciding when an animal is ready to move up for adoption, approving medical care, temperament testing and evaluating animals, working with the shy ones to see if they can warm up, and otherwise making sure that everyone is getting what they need.  I buy supplies and make sure we have the things we need to get the work done – cleaning supplies, collars and leashes, paperwork, etc.  Troubleshooting when things break is one of my least favorite parts of the job – it’s always unexpected and needs to be dealt with immediately.  The urgency and the fact that it’s not budgeted for (who can predict what, and when, things will break?) always makes it a stressful event.

PR and promoting the shelter is one of my main jobs.  Posting on our Facebook page, keeping our website updated, sending out email announcements and putting ads in the paper helps keep us connected with our community.  We strive to make the shelter your go-to place for pet care questions and adoptions.

A lot of time is spent dealing with the public.  I like helping out in the office and do that when we are short-handed.  Answering questions, showing adoption animals, receiving owner surrender animals and strays, taking lost pet reports – one never knows what might come in through the door or what question someone will call with.  It’s actually quite fascinating and a real lesson on our society.  We field a lot of questions from people concerned about strays or their neighbor’s pet that isn’t getting adequate care.  These are tough calls because we all want every animal to be well cared for, but the laws are pretty minimal and enforcing them is difficult and time-consuming.  We do what we can and hope that some education might be enough to cause change.

Just when we start to get jaded by some of the things that we see and hear, someone will come along and adopt a senior or disabled pet and restore your faith in people.  Or a young girl will come in with an envelope of money that she got for her birthday and donate it to help the animals.  Or an adoption alumnus will stop by with his family to show off how well he is doing in his new home – these things just make our day and keep us going!

Animal neglect rare locally, but sadly still it happens

Animal neglect rare locally, but sadly still it happens
By Mickey Zeldes  March 6, 2015 12:00 am
Fortunately, we don’t see much serious animal neglect in Rohnert Park. Nothing like what they see in some of the other parts of the country or even in more rural parts of California. We are lucky in that. When we do see an animal in need of attention it’s usually just a poodle type of dog or a longhaired cat with matted fur. Granted that is a very uncomfortable condition and can cause skin issues but it’s not life threatening.When an animal like that comes into the shelter as a stray, we can help directly by cleaning her up and giving her the grooming needed or if reclaimed by an owner we can require them to remedy the situation. If someone calls in concerned about an animal in their neighborhood, we can have an officer go out and do a welfare check to see if the complaint is warranted. If so, we can, again, require the owner to take care of the animal. The tricky ones are when an animal comes in with their owner for some other reason, perhaps for a free microchip or to buy a license and we notice signs of neglect.

We certainly don’t want to discourage people from coming to the shelter or from taking advantage of our services when we are out in the community by being heavy handed. Usually, we hope that it’s just from a lack of knowledge or awareness and try the gentle education approach first. Some people don’t really know about the health concerns that come with a heavy flea infestation or with severe dental disease. They think it’s just a cosmetic nuisance and keep putting off dealing with it. Usually, just having the discussion with people about what the problem is and how important it is to deal with it sooner rather than later is enough to resolve the situation.

This topic came to mind as we had two such situations just this week – a Persian cat came in for a microchip (yay!) and had mats all over the belly (not visible to the eye – and the fur on the top of the cat was OK so you wouldn’t know about the problem unless you reached under her belly for some reason) and the poor dear was crawling with fleas. When the owner was shown the condition of the fur on the cat’s underside she was shocked and embarrassed and agreed to have it taken care of. The second animal was a miniature poodle that came in stray. He also had lots of mats. It’s amazing how many owners don’t groom their pets during the winter thinking they need their coat for warmth during the cool weather and then strip them in the spring. Grooming has to be done regularly for the animal’s comfort and health. Letting them get completely matted to the point that their legs are hobbled together and then stripping them down completely should not be the norm. Take a moment to run your hands over your pet – I mean really go through the fur everywhere, under the arms, in the groin area, under the ears (if they are the droopy kind) and see if you feel any mats or see any fleas. Now would be a great time to take care of them!

Wishing for a Home for the Holidays

Wishing for a Home for the Holidays

By Mickey Zeldes  December 12, 2014

We’re always working hard to find homes for our animals but there’s something about the holidays that makes us want to push harder.  There’s just something right about having an animal in the home at this time of year. Maybe it’s all the cards with photos of dogs in front of the fireplace and cats cozy in a pile of blankets.  Or maybe, there’s just something so wrong about animals sitting in cages and kennels at this time of year.  I wonder at those that surrender their pets right before the holidays.  I think it would make the season just that much less jolly.  But then I think about how our animals are at least in a warm, dry place with lots of good food to eat and all our wonderful staff and volunteers to love and play with them and that, compared to those that are banished to a solitary life outdoors, or a feral cat surviving on his own, these animals have it made!

Regardless, the push is on to help our critters find a loving home in time for the holidays!  We have a few animals that have been here for way too long and it’s time to help them find their next abode. You can help – if you are in the market for a new best friend (who couldn’t use one more of those?) consider adopting from your local shelter!  But even if you are not personally ready for that commitment you can help spread the word about our animals.  Are you on Facebook?  Like us and share when we post our adoptable animals – surely you know someone, who knows someone, who is looking for exactly that kind of pet!  We also put up photos of the stray animals that come through our doors with the hope that someone out there will recognize him/her and notify their parents.  This has worked so many times!  It’s really gratifying to see the community rally together to help these animals get back home safely and quickly.

Here’s the story of just a few of our long-timers for your consideration and help.  Diego is a little wire-hair terrier and was just about a year old when he first came into the shelter back in June. Hard to believe the bad luck this little guy has had. He was first surrendered because his family hit hard times and just couldn’t keep him. No problem, he was adopted fairly quickly and was settling into his new home when the adopter found out she had cancer. Needless to say with something like that on her mind she found she couldn’t cope with the demands of a new dog so Diego came back to us.  We know going in and out of homes can be hard on the animals but he is young and adaptable. He was adopted again, but this time, after just a couple of weeks, back he came. Seems like he found the cat just too much fun to chase and bark at. Poor cat. Now we know to find him a home without a feline.  Not too much of a wait for a cat-less home to come around and Diego once again went out our door with all the fanfare and excitement we shower on our departing residents. What are the odds of the adopter deciding they have to move after just a couple weeks and that taking a new dog was not in the script? Usually 3 strikes and you’re out, but not little Diego! We believe that 3 down and the right one to go! So we’re back to looking for a cat-less home that’s willing to really make a commitment to this little guy. Can you help this cutie out?

Vincent and Vanille are two kittens that have been growing up in the shelter. They were rescued as tiny kittens from a field and sent into a foster home to be tamed down. That was back in MAY! Because of recurring upper respiratory colds they have been in and out of our sick bay. They probably have herpes,  (not uncommon in cats) which is very manageable with good care and would most likely improve quickly once they got out of the stressful shelter environment. They are sweet, playful (but still a tad shy) teenagers now and it’s sad to see them here day after day. They are beautiful short-hair brown tabby and Vincent is polydactyl (with extra toes) which makes him even more special. They would love to find a home together if possible, so that is what we are looking for.

To help these animals (and all our other residents) find the homes they are dreaming about, we are running a holiday special.  During the month of December you can name your own adoption fee!  Stop on by and meet Diego, Vincent and Vanille or any of their many friends here at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter and make an offer.  You may have a new BFF for the holidays!

What happens to the injured stray pets?

What happens to the injured stray pets?

By Mickey Zeldes  December 5, 2014

Ever wondered what happens to injured strays?  What care would be given to your Fluffy or Rover if he or she slipped out the door and got hit by a car or attacked by another animal? Depending on who finds the animal and the time of the day or night that he or she is found, the answer can differ. Often, the animal is brought to the shelter first, as we are the place people think of when they find a stray – which is wonderful.  And if we’re able to take care of the animal ourselves, we will. But our contract vets are here for only a few hours each week.

If we are open, we will do our best to assess the damage; but if our vet isn’t here and the injuries seem significant, the City of Rohnert Park has an agreement with the local emergency hospital – VCA Animal Care Center, 6470 Redwood Drive – to see the stray.  The state requires each municipality to have a fund to cover some basic medical expenses for strays (comes out of our animal license fees – another good reason to keep your dogs and cats licensed). Our goal, of course, is to try and have the animal reclaimed by the owner as soon as possible so they can take over the expenses and decision-making.  The Animal Care Center has a small blanket amount pre-approved so they can get started on trying to stabilize the animal, but then they have to call either the shelter supervisor or the shift sergeant to get approval for further treatment.  That’s where hard decisions and the Animal Shelter League comes in – this local non-profit often funds the extra medical care of needy animals.

This just happened over the holiday weekend.  An older black lab was seen being hit by a car on East Cotati Avenue, and a Cotati Police Officer took the injured dog to the emergency hospital.  Although wearing a collar, she had no tags, license or microchip.  Her leg was badly broken in multiple places and she had a large gash on her side that needed to be closed up.  Without knowing the dog’s age, overall health condition, temperament or anything useful, we had to decide how far to proceed immediately and what could wait to see if an owner was found.  The decision would need to be made whether to attempt to repair the leg or just amputate (a very traumatic surgery), or not go forward at all because either choice was expensive and without guarantees.

A shelter staff person went over to scan again for a microchip (wishful thinking) and to take a picture so she could be posted on our Facebook page.  Then we had to cross our fingers that her family was not away for the holiday weekend.  Once posted, we were gratified to see a swirl of comments and “shares” until finally one that said “I think this is my dog!”  How gratifying is that? Social media to the rescue!

Pets also give thanks

Pets also give thanks

By Mickey Zeldes  November 28, 2014

As you were sitting around your holiday table and felt those brown eyes looking up adoringly (begging?) at you, were you wondering what your pet was thinking (besides trying to telepathically get the turkey to fall to the floor)? Let me interpret for them if I may, because you will like what you hear.

The fact your pet is in the house speaks volumes for your relationship. Your pet knows you consider him one of the family and is very appreciative of that fact. He knows too many dogs and cats live lonely, sad lives outside – sometimes in cold or inclement weather. He knows he’s a little spoiled, but he cherishes being able to snuggle with you and having a cushy bed to sleep on.

She also thanks you for not always giving in to her begging because human food is often not the best choice for her, and she needs to watch her waistline. The fact you are willing to go to the store and buy special food just for her makes her heart go pitter-patter. The fact you can recognize when they aren’t feeling well, even when the symptoms are subtle, shows how in tune you are with your best friends. They feel cherished when you take them to the veterinarian to make sure everything is OK.

Although your cat might act like an aloof snob, she is secretly pleased you go to all the effort you do to keep her litter box clean and ready. She hates being itchy from fleas and ticks and loves how you brush and comb her and keep her pest-free. And despite all of the struggling as well as the pathetic look on her face, she actually really likes when she gets a bath and smells so much better for it (we’re talking dog here, cats usually take a while to forgive that indignity).

Your pets recognize the love you show when you put a microchip in them and a license and ID tag on their fashionable collars. How thrilling to know you are doing what you can to keep them safe and to get them back in the off chance they ever become lost.

Your dog loves nothing better than going for walks with you, and when appropriate, being included on the day’s outings. Of course, your cats also appreciate the time you spend playing with them – actually any time spent with you is your pet’s favorite time in the whole world! And that’s what having a pet is really all about – sharing time and that special bond. Please know your pet trusts and loves you unconditionally. And thanks you for returning it.

Pt. Isabelle – best dog park ever!

Pt. Isabelle – best dog park ever!
By Mickey Zeldes July 25, 2014
It’s kind of frustrating to be living near so much water and have so few options of places to take a water-loving dog to swim. What fun is it to have a Golden Retriever and not be able to take him swimming? Actually, I know about a couple of great places that I’ll share with you, and then hope you can expand my horizons by sharing back.

Have you been to Pt. Isabelle? It’s across the bridge in Richmond but well worth the drive. This 23-acre regional shoreline park is a treasure. It’s unlike any other dog park in that it’s not just a fenced area where owners sit around talking and ignoring their dogs while the dogs engage with each other or get in trouble. It’s a walking park, big enough that a hundred or more dogs can be there at one time, and it doesn’t seem crowded.

There is water access in one of the inlets and on the bay side if you and your dog are brave enough to deal with the waves. There are picnic tables here and there, but the crown jewel of this place is the Sit and Stay Café, featuring delectable treats for both you and your pup. Enjoy an espresso drink, smoothie or a full lunch on their dog-friendly patio (vegetarian options available).

Believe it or not, next to the café is a self-serve/or by appointment dog wash and tiny pet store. So after your dog gets filthy swimming and playing in the park you can bathe him or pay to have him bathed (while you enjoy a latte?) before putting him back in the car. Nice, huh? How many other dog parks can boast these kind of amenities?

Ft. Funston in San Francisco and Dillon are two more favorite dog places. In both, dogs are legally able to be off-leash as long as they are under voice command. They have large beach areas where you can walk for a long ways, and both have bathrooms near the parking area (Ft. Funston has Portapotties), which is a nice amenity when you drive so far to get there. Ft. Funston is free, but Dillon beach charges $7 for parking. The drawback to these two locations is the swimming is in the ocean, and I’m a chicken with the risk of riptides. People drown every year on our coast – some because they are trying to save their dog. So we stay splashing in the shallow areas and although Brandy has a great time, it’s not really swimming.

September is our favorite month, as Spring Lake opens to dogs every weekend in September with their Bark Swim. This is a small lake but is deep enough for a dog to really have to paddle if they go out any distance. They charge $5 per dog on top of the parking fee, unless you are a regional park member (free parking and just $3 per dog) and it’s very popular. If you come out there, you’ll see Brandy out in the center of the lake just swimming in joyous circles.

Do you know a good dog swimming location? We’re always looking for new experiences and love hiking and exploring our beautiful county. Let me know ( and I’ll share what you send in a future article.