Annie here and I would like to share an interview that I had with one of my angels and hero’s who helped me in my personal journey and road to recovery. Kathy from the Portage Animal Protective League answered the call when I was need of medical attention. She worked with the doctors and staff at Stow Kent Animal Hospital and was sure to meet all of my needs and she treated me with love, kindness and patience. Kathy does this for countless animals every year.
This month is Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month and that’s why I would like to share her interview with all of you. Their are many instances of cruelty that we see at the animal hospital and without the help of Humane Officers like Kathy then some of these animals would be left neglected, scared, sad and lonely.
1. What made you choose a career as a Humane Officer?
It’s not something I really chose to do. I’ve been working at Portage Animal Protective League for almost ten years now. I have done rescue work most of that time, helping the Humane Officer out or going out on calls with the Shelter Manager, Bev Bickley,when we were without a Humane Officer. I was finally able to go for the training and was sworn in as a Humane Officer in January 2012. I served as the back-up Humane Officer until the full time Humane Officer resigned. Since February 1st of this year I have been doing my full time job as Dog Coordinator as well as covering Humane calls on a temporary part time basis. While it is not something I really enjoy doing, it is a job that needs to be done. You meet the “low-lifes” of society more times than not, people who think an animal is as easy to discard as a pop can. The only satisfaction comes in knowing I’ve been able to improve life for the animal(s) I remove.
2. What tips do you have to help the public recognize/report animal cruelty?
If someone witnesses an act of cruelty – report it! A dog left in a hot car, flea ridden animals with no fur, an animal with a visible wound or injury that is not being tended to, someone beating an animal, a severely thin animal, animals left behind when a family moves out – these are just a few of the many things that should be reported. Report the suspected abuse or neglect to your county Humane Officer, the Sheriff’s office or your local police.
3. What is the worst case you have ever seen?
That’s a tough one to answer because the horror comes in many forms.
There are hoarding/animal hoarding situations that are terrible because of the horrendous conditions the animals come out of. They are constantly breathing in the toxic smells from urine and feces. We have to enter the home with hazmat suits and respirators, the animals live and breath it every day. Some of the animals were born into it and have never smelled fresh air or have seen the light of day until they come to us. Many, if not most, have chronic upper respiratory illnesses. Most are unsocialized. Probably the worst hoarding case I’ve seen is the one involving fourteen cats and a dog we named Cory. Cory lived his entire life in a small crate in a small dark room in a basement. When he was removed from the home, there was a carcass from a dead cat rotting on his crate. All he heard were the noises over his head. We tried for months to rehabilitate him. Cory was afraid of every little sound, every fast movement. After many months of trying and many weeks of agonizing, we made the very painful decision to euthanize Cory and set him free from his terrible fears. He was only about two years old.
There are clear abuse and neglect cases that are likewise horrible. Animals with broken legs gone unrepaired so that their leg is twisted into a deformed and unusable limb. Animals starved to the point of bones protruding through their skin. A dog tied to a tree and used for target practice. A cat set on fire as a prank. A dog with a wound that has gotten so infected, pus just squirts out of it at the slightest touch.
It is hard to say which is the worst. Every time I say something is the worst I have ever seen, the next one that comes along is even worse. I am sorry to say I probably haven’t seen the worst yet. Most of the cases I handle are bad, worse than bad. Some we can save, some we cannot. But whatever the fate of an animal is after we remove it from a home, most certainly it is better for the animal. The worst part of each case is that another animal has suffered at the hands of a human. That is most disturbing to me and the part that keeps me awake at night. The people will often argue that the situation is what it is because of this or that. The bottom line in most of the cases is that the humans made poor choices, the humans created the situation they are in. The animals had no say in the matter.
4. How do you deal with the fact that people can be this cruel to animals?
That may very well be the hardest part of the job. Removing animals and getting the care they need and the love they deserve is often the easy part. Dealing with the people and their excuses and anger is difficult. I’m not very forgiving when it comes to people abusing or neglecting animals. I find it hard to accept their excuses. When they tell me they can’t afford medical care or even food for their “pet” but they have tattoos and piercings and are smoking and have things for themselves, I find it hard to swallow. They have made the choice to take care of themselves and their wants over the needs of their animals. Again, the animals have no choice, the people do. I encounter a lot of angry people out there. They are angry they have to live where they do, or they can’t have the car they want or they are tired of taking care of four kids under the age of 5, or whatever it is they are moaning about. Oh, and it’s not their fault, it’s always someone else’s fault or because of the circumstances. People want what they want when they want it and too bad for the animals. People also do not want to take responsibility for their actions and decisions.
5. What is your favorite rescue animal from the shelter? Or your top 3 if it’s too tough to narrow down.
Probably at the top of the list is a dog named Miracle. Some people came into the shelter on Halloween in 2005. They had been out walking on a rural road and heard a noise in a ditch where they found a tiny puppy. When we got it, it was cold and wet and muddy and very tiny. She weighed less than 1/2 pound. She fit in the palm of my hand. At first we thought she was about a week old. We warmed her up and bottle fed her. I took her home knowing she probably might not live through the night. She survived the night and I brought her back and forth to work with me every day so I could feed her. I named her Miracle, for the simple fact it was a miracle she lived through the night. As time progressed, we realized, in watching her development, she was probably only about 2 days old when we got her and she was probably the runt of the litter. My dog, Oreo, was like a little nursemaid with her. Oreo would watch Miracle, come and wake me if Miracle cried, played with her, looked out for her. Oreo and I cared for Miracle for three months. They day she went to her adoptive family was one of the hardest days for me. While I knew I could not keep her and she was going to a great home, I had been her mother – the only mother she ever knew – for her whole life so far. It felt like someone reached in and ripped my heart out. That was my baby!
Cory, the dog from the basement, was one of my favorites. I spent a lot of time working with him, hoping and praying we could rehabilitate him. He was a tough one to let go.
Of course there is Annie the burn dog from the barn fire and Faith the “Miracle Dog” with two broken front legs that healed on their own without surgery. They both had the odds against them but with perseverance and teamwork (the APL, vets and fosters), they are both now healed and in wonderful homes. Annie and Faith are two of our best success stories.
6. You have a tough job that isn’t all about puppies and kittens and happy endings – how do you cope with the tough cases?
A lot of tears are shed in this job and as Dog Coordinator at the shelter. There are always tough and unpopular decisions to be made. Euthanizing animals is a relatively simple and painless act, but the emotional impact is overwhelming. Even when I know that euthanasia is the right thing for the animal in order to end whatever suffering is happening for it, it is still taking a life. So, I cry a lot. I don’t say a lot about those things to too many people, but I do have a support group. It helps some. The tough cases also keep me awake at night. Being a Humane Officer is a tough job, one that cannot be taken lightly.
7. How many cruelty calls do you get a month?
That varies. On average for the last three months, I’ve gotten 40 – 55 calls per month. Some are unfounded, but nevertheless have to be checked out. Many complaints for cruelty are actually neighbor disputes with no evidence of abuse or neglect. The numbers spike from about 3 – 4 days before and after a full moon.
8. Is hoarding a serious problem or something we just see in the media?
Hoarding and animal hoarding are both serious problems, finally being brought to light by the media. Hoarding of things and hoarding of animals often go hand-in-hand. It’s a mental issue related to control and obsession with things. I’ve worked on three animal hoarding cases in the last three months alone. We’ve had probably at least a half dozen more in the last two years. And these are only the ones we find out about.
9. What are the weirdest animals you have had at the shelter or rescued from a cruelty case?
We have had birds, a crocodile, ferrets, chinchillas, goats, snakes, rabbits, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, turtles. I’m not sure which I would consider the weirdest. We get most of the animals that are not dogs or cats into fosters or rescues simply because we are not equipped to handle them here at the shelter.
10. Anything else you would like to tell us about your job or the animals or any advice the public should know?
While both my jobs at the shelter are often heart-wrenching and difficult, I wouldn’t trade my position as Dog Coordinator for the world. Once a Humane Officer is hired, I expect to go back to being back-up and focusing on the animals in the shelter, not so much on the cruelty in the county until the effected animals reach our doors.
The greatest reward in this job is to bring in an animal, see the difference that food and water and medical care and love can make in its life, and then watch as it goes off with its new furever family. Knowing I had a small part in making the life of an animal better helps to helps to relieve the emotional pain I feel when I first encounter them. I work with a team at the shelter as well as fosters and vets and rescues. It is together that we make a difference in the lives of the animals that come into our doors. As long as I can continue to improve the lives of animals, I will continue to be a part of animal rescue.
Hero’s come in all shapes and sizes….mine was a Humane Officer
-Annie the yellow lab