Main Navigation

A Targeted Fix

A Targeted Fix

A new Trap-Neuter-Return program helps AHS humanely reduce the feral cat population
 

BY CARRIE LIBERA

Like most animal lovers, Shelley is concerned about the outdoor cats in her neighborhood. Every night she sets out food for the cats – four to six, by her estimate – that live around her Anoka property. The cats are feral – they have never been socialized and are not accustomed to being handled. “Some I recognize as regulars and some come and go,” says Shelley.

Although Shelley appreciates the cats, she didn’t want the population to grow out of control. So when she learned about Animal Humane Society’s new Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, she saw an opportunity to do the right thing.

“I don’t mind taking care of them, but I wanted to have them spayed or neutered — both for their own sake, and to prevent them from creating more homeless ferals.”

Jo Daney, an AHS staff member who manages the TNR program, worked with Shelley to trap the cats.

Daney set out six traps on Shelley’s property and returned the next morning to find all of the traps full. But Shelley didn’t recognize any of the trapped cats as the ones she had been feeding. So the next night they set out all six traps again, and again the next morning they were all full. Shelley was shocked. She had no idea she was caring for a colony of at least 12 cats on her property.

“A situation like that is not at all uncommon since feral cats are most active at night when they feel safest,” says Daney. “When you have someone free-feeding cats, there is no way to tell just how many cats are actually living off that food source. They are very good at staying under the radar during the day when people would see them.”

Limiting the growth of this particular colony is a very small part of a large-scale effort to reduce the number of feral and stray cats in Minnesota through a targeted TNR program AHS is piloting in a small group of Twin Cities suburbs.


TNR Specialist Jo Daney collaborates with outdoor cat caretakers in the targeted zip codes, traps and transports the cats to Animal Humane Society for spay/neuter surgeries, and then returns the cats to where they were living.

Community Cats
Chances are you have seen a stray or feral cat roaming around your neighborhood. These unowned cats are known as community cats – stray or feral cats living outdoors, able to roam and reproduce. Community cats have learned to survive in every climate, are very resourceful at finding food and shelter, and can rapidly multiply. In fact, unsterilized female cats can become pregnant at five months of age and may have two to three litters per year.

For years, many communities sought to control outdoor cat populations through euthanasia. But research conducted in cities around the country has shown that TNR programs are a far more effective and humane approach.

Under a TNR program, all the feral cats in a colony are trapped, neutered or spayed, and then returned to their original location. Returning the sterilized cats stabilizes the colony, preventing it from expanding with new litters. If cats are simply removed from the area and euthanized, the population will actually expand as the remaining cats continue to reproduce and new cats are drawn to the area by available food and resources.

TNR is most effective when all of the cats living in an area can be sterilized, colony by colony. Targeting a specific area with an outdoor cat population large enough to make a substantial impact is crucial to achieving success.

Targeted TNR
In October 2014 AHS launched a targeted TNR program, part of a Community Cats initiative supported in part by a grant from PetSmart Charities. The grant covered the cost of setting up the TNR program and providing 1,600 spay/neuter surgeries over two years for feral cats in the 55303 and 55304 zip codes. Communities in those two zip codes – Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, Nowthen, Ham Lake and Oak Grove – were selected for the pilot program because they account for more stray cat surrenders than any other zip code in the entire metro area.

“We estimate there are approximately 3,000 to 5,000 outdoor cats living in the targeted cities,” says Daney. “So my job is to seek out where those cats are living, reach out to the caretakers who are feeding them, and get them spayed and neutered so we can start making an impact one group at a time.”

Daney started by mapping the addresses of stray cat surrenderers to determine potential cat colony locations. She contacted residents who surrendered cats in the past to identify cats still living in the area. She also focused on areas that have had no surrenders – places where cats were likely but residents might not be aware of AHS and the services it provides.

Because the grant covers the cost of surgeries, the program is free to cat colony caretakers in the targeted communities, but finding them is no small task.

“People are often leery about speaking to a stranger about the cats they may be feeding,” says Daney. “They also have a hard time believing that what we are offering is actually free – that there is no catch. So first I need to establish trust with the community. It’s all about outreach, education and relationship building.”

Because the program is so new, Daney spends a lot of time going door-to-door talking with people about cats that may be living in the area. “When people are reluctant to share information at that initial contact, I make sure to leave my business card and let them know they can call me anytime. Sometimes that means I get calls for things other than TNR, but I make sure to direct them to other AHS resources so they have the best experience possible with the organization. The hope is that they will then reach out to me for TNR in the future.”

One such phone call came two and a half months after Daney reached out to a business owner in Ramsey, hoping to spread the word. She heard nothing for weeks after her initial contact, but then received a call from the woman, who needed help with a colony of seven cats, including one that had been covered in oil. That cat got immediate care, and the process of sterilizing all seven members of the colony began. “When I contacted her initially, she didn’t realize she needed help. Even though it took a few months, I’m so glad she eventually reached out, especially because those seven cats could quickly become 20 or 30 cats this spring.”

Better behavior
In addition to humanely and effectively reducing the outdoor cat population, TNR has many other advantages. Sterilizing outdoor cats can dramatically reduce nuisance behaviors including yowling and fighting during mating season, and eliminates the spraying that unneutered males do to mark their territory.

Educating the community about those advantages is another important part of Daney’s work. Earlier this year she persuaded a Nowthen homeowner not to euthanize a male cat who had been yowling, spraying, and terrorizing the sterilized females in her colony.

“I said, let me just try to neuter him and we’ll see what happens when his testosterone levels are down. If you still want to surrender him after that, I will personally come and trap him and bring him to the shelter so we can look at other options for him,” says Daney. “So that’s what we did, and now, after being neutered, he is one of her favorite cats! He’s not spraying anymore and he is actually quite affectionate. He purrs when she comes near and will even sit on her lap.”

Joy, a homeowner in Ham Lake, saw better behavior in the cats she was caring for as well. She had 13 cats living in a shelter that she built for them in her garage. She loved them like they were her pets, but they were feral and she had never been able to touch a single one. Joy always had a litter box in the garage, but the cats never used it.

Daney trapped and sterilized all 13 cats and after they were returned, Joy entered the garage to find the litter box was overflowing. “I’ve seen improved habits and personality shifts in several of the cats that I have returned,” says Daney. “It’s not always an immediate change, but once the cats are sterilized the caretakers will often see the dynamics of the colony and individual temperaments change over time.”

Among Joy’s 13 cats were three kittens that Daney assumed were too feral to be socialized despite their young age. Two were sterilized and returned to the colony, but the third had an upper respiratory infection and needed medical care before she could be sterilized. While at AHS, the kitten was given constant socialization – and the name Puffzilla. By the time her treatment was complete, Puffzilla’s behavior was suitable for adoption. With Joy’s permission, she was placed in the adoption center and went home almost immediately.

“Seeing some of these cats actually become adoptable is an added bonus,” says Daney. “We don’t force it, but many of the caretakers are receptive to the cats being adopted. They love these cats, and they want the best for them.”

A promising start
In the first five months, the targeted TNR program has sterilized 102 cats and kittens from approximately 15 caretakers. As Daney builds relationships in the community and word spreads about the resources AHS can offer, that number is expected to grow exponentially. Over time the outdoor cat population in this area – and the number of cats surrendered to AHS – will steadily decrease.

The program is already paying off, says Daney.

“I get a lot of hugs; I get a lot of ‘thank you, we love you so much, we really appreciate this,’” she says. “As more people learn how easy it is, and discover the benefits it provides both the cats and caretakers, more people will start reaching out. We’ve got a lot of work to do to meet our goal, but I’m confident we’ll get there.”


Do you know of outdoor cats in the 55303 and 55304 area codes?

Call TNR Specialist Jo Daney at (763) 432-4848 to take advantage of the TNR program. If you are caring for stray or feral cats in other zip codes, call Community Cats Coordinator Samantha Thielen at (763) 432-4892 to learn about other resources for community cats in your area. For more information, visit animalhumanesociety.org/communitycats.

Read more stories from the Spring/Summer 2015 Animal Tracks.

Download this issue as a PDF or browse online.

Doing More for Animals

Doing More for Animals

A new program expands behavior programs, advances medical treatments, and provides greater access to long-term foster care
 

BY ROSE MILLER, CARRIE LIBERA, AND PAUL SORENSON

Not long ago, a cat like Samsonite would have had few options.

Abandoned in a suitcase with grave injuries and a severe infection, the plucky black feline required multiple surgeries and a long recovery in foster care before he could go to a new home. Just four years ago, Animal Humane Society was taking in so many animals that it wouldn’t have been able to devote the extensive resources necessary to help get Samsonite ready for adoption.

Samsonite

Today, thanks to a new initiative called Doing More for Animals, Samsonite and other animals like him are getting the second chances they deserve.

Doing More for Animals focuses on helping even the most difficult-to-place animals by providing expanded behavior programs, advanced medical treatments, and greater access to long-term foster care. “It’s the continuation of a transformation that started with the Bound for Home initiative and surrender by appointment,” says AHS President & CEO Janelle Dixon.

Bound for Home changed the way animals come into AHS shelters, says Dixon, helping people keep their pets in their homes and reducing the length of stay for animals in our care. Because of that work – and the generous support of AHS donors – most animals in our adoption programs find homes within seven to ten days. “That means we now have the resources to save more animals than ever before.”

“We no longer have to look at these animals as just one big population,” adds Dr. Graham Brayshaw, director of animal services at AHS. “We can look at animals as individuals, finding innovative solutions for animals that are harder to place. The question is no longer ‘Can we get this animal a home right now?’ but rather ‘What can we do to get this animal a home?’”

That meant rethinking assumptions about adoptability, says Brayshaw. “We know there are people out there who are willing to give these animals a chance if we give them a chance.”

To help them succeed, AHS has invested in post-adoption support programs like the Behavior Helpline and an expanded Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation team. Staff and volunteers in the adoption center also have access to detailed information about each animal, ensuring that adopters get the resources they need for a successful transition from shelter to home.

Even animals that don’t become candidates for adoption benefit from this new individualized approach. For example, a new Community Cats program allows stray and feral cats that would not be appropriate or happy as pets to be sterilized and released in the same outdoor location where they were found.

Doing More for Animals has helped AHS reduce euthanasia even further. In the months since this new initiative launched, more than 91% of the animals in our care found placement. That live-release rate puts AHS among the most successful open admissions facilities in the country.

But it isn’t about statistics, says Brayshaw. “Doing More for Animals is not just this one amazing case that comes in once a week or once a month. It’s an every animal, every day thing. It takes the support of the community as a whole, from adopters who will give great homes to these animals to donors whose support makes it all possible. We can really look at each one and make the best decision for them.”

Vincent

The first thing you notice about Vincent is his appearance. But spend a few minutes with this sweet, lovable cat and it’s his personality that makes an impression. Vincent will snuggle up with whoever is available and likes lounging on comfortable beds and nestling in cozy blankets. Although he’s 10 years old, he’s got a playful spirit brought out by shoe laces and string toys in particular.

“Vincent is the best,” says foster mom Maggie Jacoby. “Despite all he has gone through, he is such a loving and patient cat.”

And he’s been through quite a bit. Vincent, who has a shiny white coat and gleaming green eyes, was surrendered the day after Christmas. His right ear was missing and his left ear was bleeding and severely hurt. He had other wounds as well, including an unhealed sore on his nose. The man who surrendered Vincent had noticed him roaming his property and built him an outdoor shelter, but when Vincent’s injuries wouldn’t seem to heal he decided to bring the cat in.

Dr. Jim Meiners, an AHS veterinarian, suspected that Vincent’s ear injuries were related to skin cancer. Tests confirmed that he had aural squamous cell carcinoma, so Meiners removed both of Vincent’s ears to clear the cancer.

While Vincent’s ears slowly began to heal, his nose wasn’t showing any signs of improvement.

Animals with squamous cell carcinoma on their ears will commonly develop it on their nasal surface as well. Since the cancer there had only started to grow recently, Meiners thought that the best course of action would be cryotherapy, or freezing tissue with liquid nitrogen. “There is little post-op pain, no infections, and it’s very effective,” he explains. But the equipment for cryotherapy is expensive and liquid nitrogen can only be stored for a day before it evaporates.

Meiners wanted Vincent to have the best chance possible so he contacted local veterinary dermatologist Dr. Andrew Mills, who loaned AHS the equipment to perform the surgery and supplied liquid nitrogen from a gas company. Meiners was able to freeze the cancerous areas of Vincent’s nose and the wound is now healing nicely, although Vincent doesn’t like to leave it alone and has to wear a cone in the meantime.

Before Doing More for Animals, an older animal with cancer wouldn’t have been a candidate for adoption. “A lot of work went into Vincent. Without this new initiative we wouldn’t have been able to do all of this,” says Meiners.

Although Vincent’s doing well now, there is a 50% chance the cancer will return. But until then, Vincent will be an excellent companion for someone. “He deserves this extra time,” says Meiners. “He’s a good all-around companion.”

Posey

Posey is a 1-year-old Shepherd mix with big, attentive ears who came to AHS from a shelter in New Orleans. She was a friendly puppy, but during her behavior evaluation she showed resource guarding behaviors, growling and attempting to bite when food was taken from her.

Our expanded Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation (BMR) department enrolled Posey in Chow Hounds, a program that helps dogs who exhibit this behavior. While she showed some progress in Chow Hounds, the program didn’t resolve the issue entirely.

At one time, that might have prevented Posey from becoming a candidate for adoption. But Doing for Animals allows the BMR team more flexibility to make individualized decisions on progress.

BMR Manager Paula Zukoff knew that Posey had potential. “Despite her limited improvement with resource guarding, she was such a great dog and extremely social,” Zukoff says. So Posey was made available for adoption with a few simple guidelines to help her adopters avoid issues: Feed her in her crate or in a separate room with the door shut and limit access to high-value treats like rawhide.

Because she required special treatment when eating, Posey was ultimately housed in a staff office rather than in the public adoption center. Two months after becoming available for adoption, Posey went home with Leslie Sales.

So far, Posey has adjusted well to her new home, says Sales. She’s even befriended the cat, Arnold. “She sleeps in bed with me and the cat, and she has to be touching you when you sleep.” Posey and Arnold have been getting to know each other slowly. “She loves playing with the cat, but sometimes the cat is not quite sure how he feels about it.”

Posey loves to go on walks, play with the Frisbee, and run around the yard and explore. “She’s a sniffer. She sniffs every inch of the yard every day,” Sales says. That’s earned her the nickname “nosey Posey.”

Sales has been able to minimize Posey’s resource guarding behaviors by following the guidelines from BMR. She has even been able to pet Posey while she is eating.

Doing More for Animals gave Posey a second chance, and for that Sales is grateful. “Sure, she does have this behavioral issue, but she’s a great dog. That’s just a small part of who she is.”

Chyra

Doing More for Animals often requires a substantial investment in long-term care to address medical and behavioral challenges. An older kitten may need socialization before being adoptable, a dog may need a long-term special diet to dissolve its bladder stones, or a cat may have a serious upper respiratory infection and need multiple courses of treatment.

Caring for these animals has required more foster volunteers and longer foster assignments, and volunteers have stepped up to meet this challenge. Since the program launched, foster volunteer capacity has increased 69%, with foster volunteers now totaling 375 individuals. “It has been amazing to see how receptive volunteers have been with this shift in mindset,” says Foster Coordinator Kelly Anderson.

A beautiful German Shepherd named Chyra is one of the many animals who have benefited from rehabilitation in foster care.

Chyra suffered a stroke five years ago, paralyzing one of her back legs. She has struggled with mobility ever since, walking with a limp and tripping over her disabled leg. Her family brought her to AHS because they could no longer afford her medical care.

AHS veterinary staff set out to determine whether or not Chyra’s disabled leg could be saved – and how well her healthy leg would function if amputation became necessary.

To make that determination, Chyra was sent to live with foster volunteer Rachel Kimbal and her two daughters. The family monitored her for ten days and determined that her other leg was perfectly healthy. “Thanks to the foster family, we were able to assess that she gets along well with her other leg and that it would be strong enough to support her,” says Meiners, the veterinarian who also oversaw Vincent’s care.

Chyra returned to AHS and her leg was successfully amputated at the end of January. “There were no issues. It was like she had been that way the whole time,” says Veterinary Technician Carole Ann Refshaw, who helped care for Chyra during her stay. “She was so happy!”

After her surgery, Chyra needed time to heal before heading to adoption, so she returned to Kimbal’s home. “It was nice that she could recover in the comfort of a home instead of here in the shelter where it’s a little more stressful of an environment,” says Meiners.

Kimbal and her daughters worked to build up Chyra’s strength, doing physical therapy exercises with the dog and taking her on daily walks.

Thanks to their work, Chyra was given the okay to go to the adoption center in March. She was adopted just a few days later, and her foster family couldn’t be more excited. “She’s a great dog. She’s super super sweet,” says Kimbal. “I’m so glad we could help out.”

Community Cats

In October, Annie Flodin contacted Animal Humane Society about a litter of kittens that were huddled under a brush pile near the parking garage of her Minneapolis apartment. The kittens were difficult to reach, says Flodin, and wouldn’t be allowed inside her apartment even if she could get to them.

Fortunately AHS could help. Staff member Anne Lally provided Flodin with live traps and encouraged her to bring the kittens in as soon as possible. Flodin had estimated they were 5-6 weeks old, young enough to learn to be family pets. “There is a window of time when kittens respond best to socialization,” says Lally. “Based on Annie’s estimate, these kittens were still in that window so the sooner we could start working with them, the better.”

Using the live traps, Flodin was able to catch the mother cat and all five of the kittens within a few days, and bring them in to AHS. After spending a week or two with a foster family to gain weight and become comfortable around people, all five kittens were adopted.

Their mother, however, couldn’t be safely handled by AHS veterinary staff. It was clear this cat was accustomed to living outdoors and would not accept human contact. Historically, when a stray or feral cat brought to AHS exhibited behavior unfit for adoption and didn’t respond to socialization, the only available outcome was euthanasia. This has long been a common practice in animal shelters all over the country.

But research has shown that euthanizing unadoptable cats has not reduced existing populations of breeding and roaming cats, and does not eliminate the nuisances they create. In fact, removing a feral cat from its colony actually encourages cat populations to steadily grow as other breeding cats move in to take advantage of the newly available shelter and food. We needed to think differently about how we were handling stray and feral cats and develop a new plan.

A new Community Cats program launched alongside Doing More for Animals offers stray and feral cats a second chance. Community cats are defined as unowned cats that live outdoors in the community. They may be feral or friendly, may have been born into the wild, or may be lost or abandoned pets. Sometimes there is a known caretaker, sometimes not.

 

The Community Cats program aims to improve the lives of free-roaming and feral cats in our community and reduce the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy cats that are not suitable for adoption. This program has two components: Return to Field (RTF) and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).

Under the RTF program, community cats are accepted by appointment at all five shelters just as they have been in the past. Stray or free-roaming cats that are friendly and would do well in a home are made available for adoption or placed in our adoption preparation programs, where AHS staff and volunteers help them adjust to life with human companionship.

“We are able to use our behavior modification programs to give as many cats and kittens as possible the opportunity to move to the adoption center,” says Kathie Johnson, senior director of operations at AHS. Indeed, most of the strays surrendered to AHS find homes through adoption.

But healthy stray and feral cats that would not be appropriate or happy as pets are no longer euthanized. Instead, they are sterilized, vaccinated for rabies, eartipped for identification purposes, and released in the same outdoor location where they were found.

Unowned cats that are deemed unadoptable due to behavior are only released if they are healthy and thriving, says Johnson. A healthy cat likely has a reliable source of food and shelter in the community, just like other wild animals. Cats that come in sick, injured or suffering will not be returned.

While it may be hard to imagine living outdoors during our winters, we know cats have adapted and manage to survive because we continue to have stray and feral cats living in our communities and being surrendered year-round, says Johnson. Cats learn to adapt to their environment, whether it’s extreme heat and humidity or cold temperatures. Similar programs have been successfully implemented in all types of climates across the U.S. and Canada.

Prior to implementing the program, Johnson and a committee of AHS staff spoke with animal welfare experts who have successfully implemented programs for community cats elsewhere. In each scenario, the situation was the same: shelters did not want to continue euthanizing healthy cats, and community members did not want these cats euthanized either.

Organizations that implemented RTF programs saw dramatic reductions in their communities’ free-roaming cat populations over time because the sterilized cats were continuing to consume their share of the resources in the area without reproducing and further adding to the population. Sterilization also helped reduce problematic behaviors like fighting and spraying.

In the first five months of the Community Cats RTF program, 246 cats have been sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and released in the location where they were found.

“Community cat programs call for a shift in thinking and a call to our community to do something different,” says Johnson. “So far the response has been very supportive.”

The mother cat Flodin trapped and brought to AHS was sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to the place she was previously living. “I saw her shortly after she was released and it was so nice to see her back in the environment she was used to and knowing that she can no longer reproduce,” says Flodin. “And I am so grateful that we were able to intervene and prevent her five kittens from living out their lives as strays.”

Watch a video about Doing More for Animals, featuring Samsonite and Chyra’s stories.


Read more stories from the Spring/Summer 2015 Animal Tracks.

Download this issue as a PDF or browse online.

Animal Tracks: Spring/Summer 2015

Animal Tracks: Spring/Summer 2015

About Animal Tracks
Animal Tracks, Animal Humane Society's magazine, is published twice a year in April and November. It is mailed to donors and individuals enrolled in our Training School and educational programs.

Download this issue as a PDF or browse online.

In this issue

A Message from Janelle Dixon

Doing More for Animals

A new program expands behavior programs, advances medical treatments, and provides greater access to long-term foster care.

A Targeted Fix

Through a new Trap-Neuter-Return program, AHS is humanely reducing the feral cat population.

Petcetera

Browse the Animal Tracks archive.

Animal Tracks: Winter 2015

Animal Tracks: Winter 2015

Download or browse this issue as a PDF.

Paws on the ground

A new Community Outreach program is building connections in Frogtown, changing perceptions about Animal Humane Society and delivering essential services to pets in one of the Twin Cities' most diverse neighborhoods.

Honoring their memory

Jim Westby's work pays tribute to decades of pets at Animal Humane Society's Memorial Pet Cemetery, the oldest pet cemetery in the Twin Cities.

2014 Report to the Community

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, AHS continued to focus on reducing the number of animals coming into our shelters, increasing the number of animals placed in the community, and reducing the rate of humane euthanasia.

Petcetera

About Animal Tracks
Animal Tracks, Animal Humane Society's magazine, is published twice a year in April and November. It is mailed to donors and individuals enrolled in our Training School and educational programs.

Building a better adoption experience

Building a better adoption experience

Visitors to Animal Humane Society are experiencing some big changes that affect both people and pets.

After extensive research and planning, AHS has rolled out an improved adoption process designed to better meet the needs of our customers.

The new process debuted in August alongside renovations to our Golden Valley adoption center. The updated space provides improved housing for adoptable cats and a more home-like and cheerful atmosphere that encourages people to interact with animals.

The renovation was funded in part by a grant from the Purina Cat Chow "Building Better Lives" program, which is committed to improving the lives of cats across the U.S.

New technology gives staff and volunteers instant access to each animal's electronic records from anywhere in the adoption center. As a result, customers complete much of the adoption in new comfortable seating areas before finishing the final transaction in a new area in the main lobby.

The goal is to provide a personalized adoption experience that feels both celebratory and fun. We are committed to providing our adoptors with a hands-on experience that is organized, timely and delivers pertinent information about the adopter's new pet and how to be successful in the future.

While the new adoption process and renovation began at our Golden Valley location, our goal is to make the same kinds of changes at our four other locations.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks.

Shining the spotlight on Hidden Gems

Shining the spotlight on Hidden Gems

Animals who don't thrive in the shelter atmosphere have another option in our Hidden Gems program.

Animal Humane Society's adoption centers can be overwhelming for some animals, and while we do our best to get them into homes as quickly as possible, the stress of being in a shelter can be too much for them to handle. Our new Hidden Gems program allows for those special animals to be housed away from our public adoption centers in the calm and quiet environment they need.

Bhaji

Bhaji came to AHS from a home with three other cats that he did not get along with. While in our adoption center, he continued to be very reactive and growled at other cats. As part of the Hidden Gems program, he was moved to a staff member's office where he could have time to be alone. Within hours, he was a completely different cat! He quickly found the highest perch and spent his time playing with feather toys and sitting with staff members.

Relaxed and at ease in his quiet space, Bhaji met his new family and was adopted just four days after his photo was posted on our website and Facebook page.

Bhaji is one of more than a dozen Hidden Gems placed in homes through this program in the past year.

PHOTO: Bhaji.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks.

Carlton County breeder turns dogs over to AHS

Carlton County breeder turns dogs over to AHS

Humane investigations team rescues 49 dogs.

In June, 49 Labrador Retriever dogs and puppies arrived at Animal Humane Society after being surrendered by a breeder in rural Carlton County.

AHS Humane Investigations Senior Agent Wade Hanson and Carlton County sheriff's deputies went to the breeder's farmhouse in response to complaints about the health of a dog purchased from the owner of the property. They discovered a breeding operation where they observed substandard animal living conditions and dogs that showed signs of neglect. The owner agreed to surrender the animals, which included several litters of puppies.

The dogs and puppies were brought to AHS in Golden Valley where they were examined and given medical care. While one puppy was old enough to be put in the adoption center almost immediately, the other puppies were too young and were placed with foster volunteers for temporary care. Most of the adult dogs went through our Adoption Preparation program for additional one-on-one confidence building and behavior help before being made available to the public.

Forty-five dogs and puppies from this case were adopted into new homes. Additionally, two of the puppies died from complications due to Parvovirus, and two dogs were transferred to our rescue partners for placement.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks.

Breeder bill becomes law

Breeder Bill becomes law

A long-awaited change to Minnesota law protects animals in breeding facilities.

In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that at long last establishes a dog and cat breeder regulation program in Minnesota. AHS and other animal welfare advocates worked for seven years to win approval for the legislation, which aims to protect the health and well-being of cats and dogs in commercial breeding facilities.

The law became effective July 1, when the Minnesota Board of Animal Health began registering commercial dog and cat breeders. Within one year, those breeders must be licensed and inspected annually to ensure they meet the law's requirements. Those who violate the law may face civil, administrative, and criminal penalties.

Under the new law:

  • Breeders must keep identifying and medical records on each animal.
  • Breeders must develop and maintain a written veterinary protocol for disease control and prevention, veterinary care and euthanasia.
  • Animals must be provided daily enrichment and must be provided positive physical contact with human beings and compatible animals at least twice daily.
  • Breeders must provide adequate staff to maintain the facility and observe each animal daily to monitor its health and well-being and to properly care for the animals.
  • All animals sold must be accompanied by a veterinary health certificate completed by a vet no more than 30 days prior to sale or distribution.
  • Puppies and kittens may not be sold, traded or given away prior to 8 weeks of age.

AHS worked to pass the breeder bill as part of the Speak Up for Minnesota Dogs and Cats coalition, which included A Rotta Love Plus, Animal Folks MN, Animal Humane Society, Minnesota Animal Control Association, Minnesota Humane Society, Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection, Minnkota Persian Rescue, Pause 4 Paws, Pet Haven Inc. of Minnesota, Retrieve A Golden of Minnesota, Second Chance Animal Rescue, and Tri-County Humane Society.

PHOTO: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton conducted a ceremonial signing of the breeder bill in July, surrounded by many of those who worked to enact the law that will regulate commercial dog and cat breeders in the state. AHS was represented by President & CEO Janelle Dixon (second from left), Chief Government Affairs and Community Engagement Officer Kathy Mock (fifth from left) and Humane Investigations Senior Agent Keith Streff (right). The bill was passed by the 2014 Minnesota Legislature.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks.

Big hearts help tiny kittens

Big hearts help tiny kittens

Bottle Babies program provides crucial services to fragile animals.

Animal Humane Society's new Bottle Babies program took off in 2014, providing critical care services to nearly 140 neonatal kittens.

Of the 139 kittens that qualified for the program this year, 127 found placement with our foster volunteers. Twelve more were transferred to Angel of Hope Animal Rescue, a rescue partner that was our only resource for these fragile kittens prior to the Bottle Babies program.

This inspiring program relies on a cadre of volunteers who are willing to foster the kittens in their homes, a significant commitment of time and effort as they must be fed as often as every two hours. This year, 28 volunteers fostered neonatal kittens in their homes, and the number of volunteers who attended the Bottle Babies training increased 53 percent.

"The volunteers are fantastic; they love helping these kittens and really enjoy seeing them develop from little creatures that need so much time, attention and care, to rambunctious active kittens ready to find their new homes," said Kelly Anderson, AHS foster coordinator.

If you are interested in learning more and volunteering with Bottle Babies next season, visit www.animalhumanesociety.org/volunteer.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks. 

Honoring their memory

Honoring their memory

Caretaker's work pays tribute to decades of pets.


BY CARRIE LIBERA

On a warm spring day, clusters of colorful flowers speckle the otherwise lush green field of Memorial Pet Cemetery in Roseville, Minn. Bouquets rest against headstones, old stone pots display blooming hues, and weathered statues are adorned with bright new life. Perched above one headstone every spring for the past 23 years is an arrangement of beautiful geraniums.

Mr. Dog, an 11-year-old Schnauzer, passed away in 1992 and his owner faithfully visited each spring with flowers to fill the large stone pot above his final resting place. "She came every year with the nicest geraniums for her dog, but I suspect she's had health issues and now it's been a couple years since she's come," explains Jim Westby, caretaker of the cemetery. "The first year there were no geraniums, I waited in case she was just late. But by June there was nothing there, so I put the geraniums in place for her. For whatever reason she can't make it here anymore, so I'll continue to bring them."

Jim Westby is a thoughtful man with an infectious laugh and a genuine smile that spreads ear-to-ear. He's a retired police officer, husband for 50 years, father of four children, and animal lover. You'd never guess he's 77 years old, especially when you learn he spends two days a week playing hockey. Perhaps what keeps him looking and feeling so young is his desire to stay active and busy, both on the ice, and in his role as caretaker of Memorial Pet Cemetery.

As the oldest pet cemetery in the Twin Cities, Memorial Pet Cemetery has been in existence since the early 1920s and was formerly known as the Feist Pet Cemetery. In the late 1980s, the cemetery was donated to Animal Humane Society.

Jim's father-in-law, Ken Fabyanske, began working as the cemetery's caretaker in 1970 when the original caretaker retired. Ken worked until 1982 and after a few caretakers came and went, Jim took over responsibility of the cemetery in late 1986.

Thousands of headstones dating as far back as 90 years dot the roughly two acre plot of land that rests between a highway and a quiet neighborhood. Jim pauses to do the math in his head and estimates around 8,000 pets are buried there. The very first headstone, he points out, belongs to Zelo, a Boston terrier buried in 1924. While most of the animals buried are dogs, there are several cats as well as a few critters including guinea pigs, birds, a turtle, and even a hedgehog. Records indicate a horse was buried on the land in 1928.

For 28 years Jim has turned caring for the cemetery into a labor of love. He takes great pride in maintaining the beauty of this hallowed land, and has helped hundreds of people through the final stage of their pets' lives. "I've met some good people doing this work," says Jim. "It's very sad when you've had a pet for so many years. But when they come here and their pet is buried, they feel happier having them in a nice spot. And they can come back and visit in a beautiful surrounding. I'm happy to do that for them."

Each animal Jim helps deliver to its final resting place is treated with the utmost respect, and he makes sure the families' needs are always met. "When a pet dies, people want closure as soon as possible, so it's important to take care of it quickly and Jim always accommodates," says Anne Ahiers, customer service supervisor at AHS. "Jim is amazing. He's super helpful, kind and caring. He helps when people are grieving and we always receive notes from people saying how nice Jim is."

In his first full year as caretaker in 1987, Jim completed 153 burials at the cemetery. That number has slowly declined over the years, and in the early 2000s, the cemetery closed to new clients due to space constraints. Existing clients who purchased plots prior to that time are still able to use those plots as their pets pass away, resulting in 15-20 new burials each year.

Over the years Jim has met hundreds of people and heard just as many stories about their pets. He's watched people grieve for animals in the same way we grieve for deceased friends and family. He's witnessed the joy that having a pet has brought to people, and even a few comical moments.

"One time I was burying a dog, and the family brought their other dog along to say goodbye," explains Jim. "The ground was covered up and the grass put back on top, and the lady says to the dog, 'go say goodbye to your brother.' The dog goes over, lifts his leg up, and pees on it! We all had a good laugh."

In addition to providing memorable burials, Jim meticulously maintains the grounds of the cemetery, everything from mowing grass and planting and watering flowers to trimming, cutting down, and planting trees. He's grateful to have help from his son, Joe, whose time in the cemetery goes all the way back to when he was a little boy and would help his grandfather when he was the caretaker.

Jim adds his own personal touches to the cemetery, like the recent garden of dahlia bushes that he planted as a special place for cremated pet remains. Many of the fresh flowers found around the cemetery are placed there by Jim. "I don't run into a lot of visitors here. For some it's too far to travel, or life just gets busy; I suspect many people bury their pets and don't come back," says Jim. "But I am a visitor. And I want to see nice flowers when I come, so I bring them."

When Jim retired from his job as a police officer in 2000, he wanted to make sure he had plenty of things to do and look forward to. Between spending time with his family, his love of hockey, and maintaining Memorial Pet Cemetery, he's satisfied with how he spends his time. "I'm thankful that the Humane Society lets me continue because I really do enjoy spending time out here," says Jim. "My wife gets tired of me saying 'let's go look at the cemetery,' so I'll swing by when I'm out on my own and just drive through and check it out. I like coming here; I like making it look good."

When Jim is no longer able to maintain the cemetery, he's confident that his son, Joe, will be able to take over. But that's not even something Jim is thinking about right now. "My dad lived to be 100 years old, so I expect to live to 100 as well," says Jim. "Who knows what's going to happen, but I plan on being around a long time. And Joe knows what he's doing. It will be alright."

Memorial Pet Cemetery

Animals have always played an important role in our society, but our relationship with them and their role in the family structure have transformed over time. In this new age of pet ownership, animals have become integrated members of the family. People do not view themselves as pet owners, but rather pet parents.

Though pets may now experience an elevated household status, a strong human-animal bond has always existed and a walk through Memorial Pet Cemetery in Roseville, Minn. reveals 90 years of relationships with beloved family pets.

Memorial Pet Cemetery traces its history back to the 1920s when a few acres of farmland were sold to a veterinarian named Dr. Arnold Feist, who then split off an area of the land to be used as a new pet cemetery. The cemetery was privately owned and known as the Feist Pet Cemetery until it was donated to Animal Humane Society in the 1980s. The name was changed to Memorial Pet Cemetery and is one of two pet cemeteries in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Tattered three ring binders tucked away at Animal Humane Society hold the original type-written records from the cemetery's first few decades. The aging and discolored pages divulge the types of breeds most popular during the 1920s and 30s. Boston Terriers, Poodles, Bull Terriers, Airedales, Fox Terriers, Collies, and German Shepherds dominate the pages.

The thousands of headstones in Memorial Pet Cemetery illustrate the evolution of pet names that people have chosen for their faithful companions. Names like Teddy, Ginger, Joker, King, and Mitzi from the 1920s. And more recently Puddy Tat, Oreo Cookie, Big Foot, Bitsy Buttons, and Sir Marco III from the 1990s.

Many of the tombstones are inscribed with loving epitaphs honoring the deceased pets, with reoccurring words like beloved, protector, loyal, sweet, devoted, companion and best friend. Versions of the message "until we meet again" adorn several of the stones. Some are engraved with images of various breeds while others have actual photographs which have weathered over time. There are statues scattered throughout, both of domestic pets and of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals.

Memorial Pet Cemetery offers a unique opportunity for animal lovers to take a historical stroll through several decades of furry companionship in a peaceful setting. Due to space constraints, new burials are no longer offered, but the site is open daily for visitors. Memorial Pet Cemetery is located at 694 Cope Avenue, Roseville, MN, near the intersection of Highway 36 and Dale Street.

Read more stories from the Winter 2015 Animal Tracks.

Social media