Monday, November 23, 2020

Foster Extraordinaire, Laura Brown, Shares Her Story of Love, Loss and King Pete

SVPP volunteer, Laura Brown, is fostering kittens for the third season this year.  It’s been a life-affirming experience for her and she has been kind enough to share her story with us.  

Laura has a long history of loving and caring for animals and had her own

Laura and Trouble
first rescue when she was an undergrad at UC San Diego — a ginger cat named “Trouble.”  Laura and Trouble moved many times together over the years and finally ended up in San Jose in 2016.  Then, Trouble’s health began to decline and she was diagnosed with diabetes.

“By 2018, I realized we were living on borrowed time, and I wanted to foster kittens to keep my spirits up. Luckily, I have a spare bedroom that became the Kitten Room though, because Trouble was a terrible hostess and I had to keep the kittens out of her sight to keep the peace in the house!” 

Laura and King Pete
Laura fostered weaned kittens for her first two years with SVPP and had a great experience. When COVID-19 hit, Laura began working from home and she decided to take on some bottle babies.

“I was excited, but nervous, too. I thought I could ease my way into the world of neonates with a mom and babies, since the mom would help me do most of the work,” Laura said. 

Unfortunately, the normally simple situation turned out to be a serious and heartbreaking experience, as the young mother became very ill and most of the neonates did not survive.

“Any loss in rescue work is sad. It happens and we know it’s a possibility when we sign up, but when you put so much love and effort into these tiny creatures…it breaks your heart to hold them in your hands and lose them.”

After a few of her most challenging weeks as a foster, and while managing Trouble’s declining health, Laura felt the need to take back some control. She purchased an incubator and rearranged the Kitten Room to be a more functional rescue space.  King Pete, the sole survivor neonate, took residence in the cozy new incubator and  became Laura’s first foster fail near the end of June. 

“Watching Pete grow and thrive after losing his siblings felt like such an accomplishment. He stole a huge piece of my heart despite my best efforts not to get attached. And Trouble was always there to snuggle me for as long as I needed when I was physically and emotionally exhausted from dealing with sick kittens. Things really came around full circle when it was Pete left here to comfort me when I lost her in August,” Laura said.

It was a record season for SVPP, with many successful adoptions and Laura added to her running tally of 49 total fosters since 2018.

The season ended just as dramatically as it started.  In August, three kittens (out of ten in Laura’s care at the time) were diagnosed with Panleukopenia. After a few more intense weeks of critical care, two of the three infected kittens survived and they were Laura’s last two adoptions of the season.

“I’m so proud of these survivors. It’s been a crazy year in all respects and I’m sad for each life lost, but I’m happy we saved so many more. The experience I gained, even though it was hard, was invaluable and will surely help me save more little lives in the future.”

Laura will be moving back to San Diego next year with King Pete, but she plans to continue her work in rescue as soon as she settles in.

We are grateful to Laura for everything she has done for SVPP — and for helping us save so many fragile, vulnerable and amazing lives.

Monday, October 19, 2020

We are Strutting for Sage! Strut Your Mutt Continues Until October 24!

SVPP has rescued 173 kittens so far this year and many were orphaned, neonates or had other special needs.  But read on.  You’ll see why Sage — and her foster family — are so incredibly special.

SVPP rescued Sage and her litter mates when they were a week old.  At four weeks old, Sage became very ill.  Although initial symptoms subsided with fluids and antibiotics, her foster mom (a vet!) noticed that she wasn’t as playful as her litter mates and a disparity in growth was becoming painfully apparent.

Sage early on.
After extensive testing, Sage was diagnosed with megaesophagus, a congenital condition where a cat’s esophagus does not contract and allow it to swallow food normally.  To save her life, Sage had to be fed at an upright angle so she could properly swallow and digest her food.  Her foster family wrapped her up like a burrito to aid the digestion process!  The incredible extra care helped Sage get the nutrition she needed to survive and thrive.

At about four months old now, Sage has gained weight and strength.  She is happy and growing!  She loves playtime (especially with her own tail), people and other pets. While she doesn’t need the burrito treatment any more, Sage will likely always have to eat at an angle (with her head higher than her stomach) and will likely require her daily medication for a lifetime.  She is available for adoption and this joyful, mischievous kitty will always need a little extra TLC.

Strut Your Mutt is our biggest fundraiser of the year and continues through October 24, 2020.  With your help, we can continue to rescue kittens like Sage and dogs like Star who need rescue, medical attention and foster care for a second chance and a “happily ever after” ending.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is now a member of the communications team.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Strut for Tenure, Jolly and Local Homeless Pets Who Need Forever Families

Welcome to Strut Your Mutt, a fun and inspiring fundraiser for SVPP! We kicked it off on September 11 — and it will continue through October 24.  We hope you can join our team and help us continue to save lives. Like other rescue groups around the country, we are partnering with Best Friends Animal Society for this national event.  We hope to raise $20,000 to provide medical, behavioral and foster care for homeless pets we rescue from local shelters.  
Strut Mascot, Tenure

Instead of strutting at the Presidio this year (as in past years), our
event will be virtual. The great news is that no matter where you are, you can participate! You can join our team, sign up sponsors and create and share a page about your rescue pet — or, you can simply donate to SVPP. Every dollar matters!

Although Strut Your Mutt has a canine theme, funds raised will also benefit our feline friends. In fact, 2020 has been the year of the cat.  With shelters closed to the public and kitten programs severely limited or eliminated all together, SVPP has literally and figuratively come to the rescue.  This year, we have saved more than 165 orphaned or abandoned kittens and their mothers.  We rescued more felines by the end of July 2020 than we had in all of 2019.


Meet one of our beneficiaries, Jolly.  He came to SVPP from the shelter and shortly thereafter tested positive for a potentially deadly virus, Panleukopenia, or "panleuk".  With an amazing foster mom and incredible and intensive support from our friends at VCA Blossom Hill and Medvet in Campbell, Jolly is recovering and has a chance at a healthy, happy life.  Our Strut Your Mutt poster cat, Tenure, was  rescued as an orphan kitten in 2017 from the San Jose Animal Care Center. She thrived in foster care with one of our experienced kitten fosters, and was adopted that same year. 
You can read about our Strut poster pup, Bowie, here.

Even in a virtual format, Strut provides a great opportunity to connect, have some fun and showcase your rescue pet with our peeps!  We will have a raffle for team members, along with educational sessions and other activities.  And, we want to hear from you!  We will showcase your pets and their stories on social media.  Please submit photos, videos and information about your rescue pet to  

On behalf of Jolly, Tenure, Bowie, and SVPP, THANK YOU for being part of our community!

Blogger Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is now a member of the communications team.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Heading Back to the Office? Address Your Pet’s Separation Issues Now

After months of shelter in place and/or work from home, you may be contemplating a return back to the office.  The question is: how do we make this change without adversely affecting our pets, some of whom experience separation anxiety?  It’s an issue more severe than loneliness (which we will address in a future blog) and to understand it better, we talked with Jessica Char, founder of
Canine Engineering and Feline Engineering.


Do pets experience separation anxiety?

Our pets can feel negative emotions like stress, fear, and panic like we can. Put simply, pets with separation anxiety don’t feel safe when they are alone. It's important to understand that this is an anxiety disorder, not a training or leadership problem.


How can I tell if my pet has separation anxiety?

Many dog guardians are familiar with the common signs of separation anxiety in dogs —

vocalizing (barking, whining, howling), destruction (chewing or digging, especially around doors), and eliminating in the house. There may be other signs, like refusing to eat, pacing, heavy panting or drooling, and more dramatic signs, like injuring themselves or escaping. Importantly, these signs only appear when the dog is alone. A young dog who isn't fully house-trained and is teething might have accidents and chew the coffee table, but it isn’t specifically tied to being alone. 

In cats, lack of normal movement or behavior (shutting down or freezing), litter box issues, and refusal to eat may be signs of anxiety when alone.


I highly recommend setting up a camera to watch your pet when you leave the house. You don’t need fancy equipment; you can set up a laptop or tablet and use a free video conferencing tool (we’re all much more familiar with them now!) to watch from your smartphone. If you are unsure or concerned about how they will behave, stay close by and be ready to return quickly. 

As we plan for a return to the office, what can we do to help acclimate our pets?

If your pet was previously left alone without issues, but hasn’t been alone in a few months, start doing some practice runs. Pretend you’re going to work, go through your routine, and then leave for a short time. Again, this is a good time to watch your pet to check for signs of stress. Even if you only stay away for 10 to 20 minutes, it’s good practice. If all goes well, make sure you leave your pet alone for at least a little while a few times a week.


If your pet is new to your family and has never been alone, do the same thing, but start small. Leave for only a few minutes at first and see how your pet handles that. If there are no issues, build up to longer periods of time as practice. 


Finally, if your pet has a history of being stressed when alone or if you discover they are having issues when you start trying your practice sessions, now is the time to work on it. Resolving separation anxiety can be a long, slow process; in most cases, it’s best to reach out to a professional who can help. Your vet may recommend medications to help your pet feel safe when alone. A Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (like myself) can guide you through the process of desensitizing your pet to being alone. 

Jessica Char is a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer and founder of Feline Engineering and Canine Engineering. She provides training and education and is an instructor for SVPP classes/webinars, including "More than Surviving, Thriving - Practical Advice for Living the Best Life with Your Pet." The next session will be conducted on September 9, 2020.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Rescue in the Age of a Pandemic: The Glass is at Least Half Full!

It’s hard to believe that in February, a mere five months ago, we expected a budget surplus in California to help fund the no-kill movement here.  Governor Gavin Newsom had proposed $50 million be provided over five years to the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.  This money would have been allocated to under-resourced shelters — for training and support — with the ultimate goal of eliminating (especially space-based) euthanasia.  We outlined the effort in that month’s blog.

Fast forward to today.  Although we have no state budget surplus to help accelerate the shelter-focused no-kill movement, at least two positive turns have come from the pandemic.  The first is that fostering and adoption rates have skyrocketed.  As work from home has become the norm, individuals and families have discovered physical and emotional space for homeless pets. 

Secondly, it’s even more crystal clear that community-based rescue and community-focused life-saving is the future of animal welfare.  SVPP, with its Pup Plaza community center, is helping enable that future.  State budget cycles come and go but animal rescue needs the local pillars of support, stability and predictability.  Best Friends’ CEO Julie Castle agrees that community-based efforts are key to saving lives.

Pup Plaza opened at the end of 2018.  Its mission has been to provide community-based outreach, education, resources, and support.  It has been the heart of adoption events, educational and fun classes, fundraisers, and respite for shelter dogs.  It has been the home to Doga, training meetups, paint your pet, cat- and dog-related workshops and instruction, a kitten shower, private pet birthday parties, numerous cat and dog adoption events, weekly shelter dog day out events, and more.  All, pre-pandemic of course.

While we expect these activities to re-emerge when it’s safe,
Pup Plaza has continued to play a pivotal role for SVPP.  Although adoption meet and greets tend to take place virtually, we have had — by single appointment only and with social distancing! — many adoption pick-ups take place there.  We use Pup Plaza as a hub to store supplies and also provide them to our 40-plus foster families.  It is even a place that foster families (again by appointment!) can pick up their pets.  It is still a work space for planning, creating web and video content and ultimately determining how to thrive and save lives in this climate and beyond.  

After all, saving lives is the bottom line!

For more information about fostering, volunteering, donating, and becoming part of our community-based, life-saving effort, click here

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is now a member of the communications team.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Don't Be Afraid to Foster Bottle Babies, Says New Foster Mom

In honor of National Foster A Pet Month, we interviewed a new and dedicated foster mom, who is caring for kittens in between graduating from MIT and starting medical school at Harvard this fall.  Meet Julia Cho!

How long have you been fostering and how many kittens have you fostered so far?  
I started fostering for SVPP on April 1, when I was a relief-foster for two critical care kitties, whose foster mama needed a quick break. I had them for five days, but then got my own litter of three soon after! Two of them, Einstein and Lovelace, just went to their forever home with a fantastic family recently. The third, Newton, I've admittedly foster-failed and decided to adopt for life.
What inspired you to foster for SVPP?
I’ve wanted to raise and/or foster kittens my whole life! In eighth grade, I adopted my first kitten, but it turned out that my little brother was super allergic (we didn’t know!). We had to return him to his foster mom, which was super sad, but we heard he went to a great home soon after. Fast forward to 2020, when my senior year at MIT was cut short due to COVID-19 and I was sent home. I figured I would apply to foster pre-weaned kittens, since they could be confined to my room where my brother’s allergies wouldn’t bother him and I’d never have enough free time to foster bottle babies once medical school started. This has been the biggest silver lining of quarantine/missing senior year/losing my graduation ceremony. 

What's been challenging and rewarding?
The most challenging thing so far, even more than waking up for three hourly meals in the middle of the night, was saying goodbye to Einstein and Lovelace. That being said, it was also extremely difficult working with the two critical care kittens in April. It was my first time ever syringe-feeding, and they were so weak that they usually didn’t drink as much as they should have. It was hard to wake up at 4:00 a.m. only for them to refuse the food. I was constantly obsessing over every gram that they gained or lost as if their life was on the line, and that stress could build up over time. We ended up losing one of them, Dizzy, which was super tough. Luckily, my litter of three were big eaters and they grew up super strong! The most rewarding thing has been just watching them grow into fully-fledged kittens with their own unique personalities and interests. I still find it funny that Lovelace was the smallest of the three but she learned how to walk, run, jump, and climb weeks ahead of Newton!

Any quick words of wisdom for potential foster parents? 
Don’t be afraid to foster bottle babies! Sacrificing just a couple hours of my sleep each night saved three beautiful lives that will go on to give happiness to their adopted families for years. For me, the experience was entirely worth it and very important, as pre-weaned kittens are often likely to be put down in shelters! 

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is now a member of the communications team.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

How Koda, Our Rottweiler Rescue, Survived Canine Parvovirus

We’ve been hearing a lot about viruses these days, but Parvo (canine parvovirus) is one that threatens dogs — especially puppies. Underdeveloped immune systems and lack of vaccine in young dogs make them especially vulnerable to this life-threatening disease.  

It is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with an infected dog or by indirect contact with a contaminated object. It’s classified as an intestinal disease, but can also affect bone marrow, lymphopoietic tissues and potentially the heart. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), certain breeds including the Rottweiler are more susceptible to the disease.  

The good news is that parvo is preventable with vaccination and can be treatable in many cases, but only with intensive and immediate medical care.  It’s a cautionary tale (or tail)...not every puppy survives the ordeal.  

Meet Koda, a four-month-old Rottweiler puppy who was surrendered to MedVet Silicon Valley after she was diagnosed with parvo and related complications.  MedVet contacted SVPP to rescue her and, with heartfelt commitment, SVPP did.  

Medical care is required around the clock for parvo puppies who have to be quarantined with the highly contagious condition. In isolation, Koda received IV fluids and oral medication and was fed through a nasogastric tube since she couldn’t keep down any food.  She didn’t have the energy to stand or play, definitely not the sign of a healthy happy puppy.  

After six days of constant care by the dedicated MedVet staff, Koda began a steady and welcomed recovery, eating on her own, gaining strength and showing the clear signs of a puppy on the mend!  Today, Koda is in foster care and getting ready to find her forever family.  She will live happily ever after! So, how do we eliminate this threat so other puppies are not at risk?  

Fully vaccinate your puppy.  According to SVPP board member and vet, Dr. Stacy Hare, this is typically a series of at least three vaccines, and sometimes more in breeds particularly vulnerable to parvo. Until your puppy is fully protected, limit exposure to public places and don’t visit areas where lots of dogs have congregated or walked.  Don’t take your puppy to a dog park or pet supply store until immunization if fully complete. 

Additionally, adopt your puppy from a reputable source so that you know about the puppy’s health and history.  If your puppy shows any suspect symptoms, like lack of appetite, vomiting, lethargy or diarrhea, seeing your vet immediately could be a life-saving act!

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is now a member of the communications team.