Tuesday, February 14, 2023

We ♥️ Our Fosters

I recently heard the “E” word for the first time in years, in a way that literally jolted me.  In a bay area newscast, a reporter interviewed employees of a local south bay shelter.  The news angle?  That the shelter was so overcrowded that it would have to start euthanizing homeless pets if the overcrowding wasn’t resolved.  Simply too many homeless pets for the amount of space available.

With a year in foster care, sweet April
would love to find her forever family.

I had two quick reactions.  One was a combination of dismay and heartbreak.  Many pets are being surrendered as employees return to the post-Covid office.  How could bay area residents take in pets during the pandemic without planning for after it?  

The other reaction was of gratitude. 

Because of our foster families, we are able to make a dent in this overcrowding and save lives.  We can rescue a pet from the shelter and get it into a safe home.  We can provide the pet with the love, support, medical and/or behavioral care it needs in order to heal, thrive and find its happily ever after.   We’ve always focused on rescuing the most vulnerable pets — seniors and those with medical or behavioral needs that the shelters can’t meet — but now it’s more important than ever.

Right now, we have 25 pets with foster families. The majority of dogs in our care are special needs, requiring six months to a year in foster care.  We have some special needs cats that need tremendous support.  These pets all require specialized care that the shelter can’t provide.

Our goals for 2023 include expanding our foster base and ramping funding efforts so that we can continue to rescue and rehome homeless pets…without the threat of the “E” word hanging over us, threatening to harm the very lives we work to save every day.

So, as we celebrate Valentines day this month, who gets the heart?  Our fosters do.  We ♥️ our fosters!

Want to learning about fostering a cat or dog?  We would ♥️ that!  Click here.

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Joy of Gucci (the Cat)

I could have called her “Joy” and would have meant it.  But, after a month of getting to know her, we named her Gucci and it’s very fitting.  Gucci is fearless and happy and our cat sitter says she has “cattitude.”  She’s the newest member of our family and she’s given us great joy at the time we needed it most.

We lost a member of our feline family, Oreo, unexpectedly in July.  It was an untimely and devastating death caused by congestive heart failure.  We are still mourning the loss of this beautiful cat who we found starving in St. Helena many years ago.

In our grief, we were determined to make a difference…and maybe even find some respite by giving a home to a cat in need. We’ve adopted from SVPP three other times – and rescue has changed our lives.  We discovered that giving a home to a homeless pet is both life-affirming and soulful.

Misty (now Gucci) was in her fifth SVPP foster home through no fault of her own – changing or emergency circumstances encountered by families who were generous enough to take her in while SVPP worked to find her a permanent home.  Her fifth foster was getting ready to travel for more than three months.  We met her and couldn’t bear to think that she might be in transit again.  

We brought Misty into our home — where we’ve had Lefty since 2014.  It took a full month to acclimate the two, who we kept separate most of that time with a door or baby gate.  We desperately needed them to get along since our gentle, warm and loving tabby (Lefty) experienced a lot of friction with Oreo.  After many treats, slow introductions, patience and supervision, the cats became friends.  Although we hear an occasional yelp when they get too energetic, they hang out together, chase each other around the house, sunbathe in our catio, compete for treats, and play with the same toys.  

The joy we’re experiencing is profound…from being able to provide a loving home for Gucci and celebrating her friendship with Lefty, to seeing how happy she is here — and with us.  If you meet Gucci, you would never know she had been dropped off at the shelter, abandoned and homeless with kittens, unwanted and unloved.  She is not that cat now. 

We are grateful to SVPP for bringing Gucci and Lefty into our lives. We hope that in this season of giving, you will consider donating here so that SVPP can saving continue this life-saving work while bringing great joy to families like ours.

Karen Zamel is the proud owner of Gucci, a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communications team.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Shelters are Full – and Individuals Need to Take a More Active Role in Rehoming Their Pets

On a recent Sunday, SVPP received this voicemail:  

“I have a dog that I am not able to keep. I don't want to give her to the shelter, so just got to see what if you guys had any options or if you guys had any resources that you could guide me towards  that would be awesome. She's a sweet dog. I just can't keep her.”

It’s commendable that this person doesn’t want to give her dog to the shelter. However, that might not have been an option. Shelters are full, as we indicated in our June blog, and they are looking to the community for support — not more homeless pets. Between people returning Covid-era adopted pets, changed minds, unforeseen circumstances, kitten season and strays in need, shelters are beyond capacity.

There is a much-needed shift in the thinking of our communities and pet owners. Shelters can no longer be considered the go-to solution for everything related to pet homelessness, pet rescue, lifesaving, and rehoming. Too many pets are at risk for one facility in each community (even each community even has this resource) to address everything at every level of pet homelessness. 

Here’s the good news. As someone who has been involved with rescue since 2012, I can say with certainty that the resources and options for rehoming your own pet now (vs. drop off at a shelter) are much better now than they were 10 years ago.

First and foremost, SVPP has a rehoming page that includes resources and tools that can help you find a new home for your pet. Nextdoor.com is one great option for reaching local families who might be looking for your type of pet. Another option is signing up on Get Your Pet…From one good home to another. This is an online pet adoption community where people who want to adopt a pet can connect with people who need to rehome a cat or dog.

In trying to keep on the forefront of this important issue, SVPP has become a HASS Rescue Partner (Human Animal Support Services). This project focuses on keeping animals in their homes and communities, building foster-centric organizations, and empowering animal lovers to find solutions for common challenges. 

We had a personal situation a few years ago when a neighbor in the midst of a health crises abandoned her indoor only cat  leaving it outside when she moved. We discovered this when we saw the litter box and cat tree in her dumpster. We rescued the cat and brought it home (after a vet visit), and kept it separate from our other pets while we worked our “work” networks. We found Peaches a happy home with a colleague of mine  and she drove off with her new owner in a white BMW. But, had the previous owner let us know in advance we would have done the same thing without the panic. Rescuing pets continues to be a personal and community-based effort.

When you encounter owners who need to surrender their pets, please offer them resources provided on the SVPP page, including the ideas for Nextdoor and Get Your Pet. The pet’s life could depend on it.

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

Monday, June 27, 2022

Shooting Up a Flare with an Urgent Call for Help

Usually, our calls for help are specifically for SVPP – donations or dollars, fostering – you probably know the drill, and we thank you for that!

But today, we are shooting up a flare for our friends at the San Jose Animal Care Center.  As you may know, we partner with SJACC and rescue from them the at-risk cats and dogs that need extra medical care and TLC.  A glance at the SJACC Facebook page demonstrates great and urgent need.  We are asking our animal-loving community to help – and help quickly.

Young and adorable Tuttle (ID#A1234369) needs to find his forever home quickly! He is about 1 year 8 months old and a neutered male, merle-red Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Australian Cattle Dog. He has been at the shelter since Oct 12, 2021.

First and foremost, the shelter is full.  They need these beautiful and homeless pets to be adopted and finally be with their forever families.  If you are looking for a feline or canine companion, please consider adopting from this shelter!  The June 8, 2022 posting says that all dog and cat adoptions are free – but go to the Facebook page for any updates.  They are welcoming in-person visits and adoptions Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays) from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Next on the list for community action: the shelter is tremendously short of specific supplies.  They are requesting newspapers, towels, hand towels and blankets…no sheets, pillows, pillow cases, comforters (or anything with feathers).  These items can be donated during normal business hours at the shelter.

Last but not least, they need volunteers! If you or any member of your family has time to pitch in, please consider signing up to be a Pet Pal with SJCC.  Pets in the shelter need attention, love, socializing, care and comfort until they are adopted.  You can go directly to the SJACC website and apply.

Sweet Rosa is one of more than 400 cats housed at the San Jose Shelter. She – like many other cats there – needs to find her forever family. She is about two years old, spayed and a Domestic Shorthair.

Given the shelter’s at-capacity state, it’s important to share some resources for rehoming.  While it’s essential to meet a potential pet and evaluate your long-term fit for pet ownership, we know that some circumstances change. Here is information on the SVPP website that addresses rehoming and rehoming tools.

Shelters went from being emptied at the height of the pandemic with stuck-at-home families seeking companionship and company to being at- or over-capacity now, with animals being returned in droves.  We owe it to help these animals and the shelters who are trying to protect them while they seek the second and third chances they deserve. 

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

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Big Dogs Need Love, Too!

In the course of rescuing dogs of different breeds, sizes and shapes, we discovered that large dogs often spend longer than other pets in shelter or foster care. We interviewed Kara Fike, CPDT-KA, and Hannah Senadenos, CPDT-KA, owners of Underdog Academy Dog Training, to find out why — and how we can help these dogs blossom, realize their potential and find the perfect forever family. This is the second blog in our two-part series. The first is published here.

I know we’ve been talking about the challenges of adopting large dogs. How can training make a difference? 

"Training" can encompass numerous techniques to address a wide variety of issues. In our field, we commonly find owners need help on specific behavioral challenges such as fear related issues (w/ new people, other animals, environmental factors, etc.), reactivity, impulse control, rowdy or mouthy behaviors, isolation distress, resource guarding, and beyond. Some people want to incorporate foundational training for basic manners and obedience. Many who recently adopted a large dog want guidance in acclimation into the home, while others need help with managing or improving the relationship of existing pets. Large dog owners especially want their dogs to be good canine citizens as managing a large dog with behavior challenges can be difficult and less accepted in today’s society. 

The common theme in our training is establishing a communication system. Many issues stem from owners simply misinterpreting why a dog is behaving a certain way. We help owners understand what their dog is trying to communicate by educating on body language and finding individual motivators such as treats, toys, or praise. Once they better understand how their dog learns and what motivates them, they can work to resolve issues and more effectively teach them new skills. 

It's important to know that not all training is created equal. While we fully support individualizing training to a dog's specific needs and owner’s overall goals, there are several factors that can impact the success of training. Training is the most impactful when there is consistency and motivation. We guide owners on reward-based training which focuses on identifying desirable behaviors from your dog and rewarding those behaviors so they are more likely to occur. 

Do you focus on the underdog, as your name implies?  Why?

Yes! We spent many years dedicated to improving the lives of shelter animals. As animals came into our care, we saw the same behaviors emerge in different dogs from different homes, and knew it wasn't a coincidence. We quickly recognized a huge need to proactively help owners who were struggling with their pets. We developed a great passion for dogs at risk for being surrendered.  We saw underdogs. An underdog is someone you see as a longshot at being successful. The fearful, the reactive, the rowdy, and the misunderstood. It's our goal to help those dogs thrive in a home. It's our goal to help owners see the light at the end of the tunnel and learn to love their dogs for who they are, imperfect and all.

We’ve talked about some of the challenges of big dogs.  What are some of the joys?

Some of our most favorite, affectionate, goofy, intelligent, endearing dogs we have ever known in our personal and professional lives were large dogs. They are certainly more dog to love! Big dogs make great exercise and activity companions! One of our favorite hobbies is jogging with dogs, and we even trained for a half-marathon with a shelter resident shepherd named Violet. It can be very rewarding and super fun to train and do dog sports with a big pup. They are also sturdy and can make AMAZING cuddlers. Our other favorite activity is helping facilitate dog to dog relationships, and big dogs playing together is more entertaining than watching Monday night football! Beyond that, most large breed dogs are purpose-bred and come with unique qualities and astounding physical capabilities that we encourage owners to explore to really tap into their full potential. 

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


Monday, January 10, 2022

In Rescue and Adoption, are Big Dogs the Underdog?

You might have been hearing about large dogs, like Mamba, who come to our organization needing care, support, love and, yes, training!  Even with sweet temperaments, smarts and immense potential, these beautiful dogs can stay in shelters or foster care longer than other pets. But why? We talked with Kara Fike, CPDT-KA, and Hannah Senadenos, CPDT-KA, owners of Underdog Academy Dog Training to find out.

Mamba with Hannah is a good boy!
This is the first in a two-part series. The information is so important that we are publishing it in two blogs, rather than editing for brevity. A huge thank you to Kara and Hannah for their insight and help.

I understand that when we rescue big dogs, it’s harder to find them forever families. Why is that?

There are a variety of reasons that can contribute to why large dogs tend to have a longer length of stay in shelters and rescues. Any challenge a dog may display can be compounded by size. A 10-pound-dog that pulls on leash or is fearful with new people may be easier to manage than a 75-pound-dog with the same issues.While not always the case, smaller dogs are sometimes thought of as being easier to care for, needing less space, needing less exercise, and challenging behaviors that can be more easily ignored. Housing restrictions can also limit certain large size dogs and breeds which may deter adopters. 

Dogs in rescues and shelters do not always have the benefit of coming from circumstances that gave them training, whether that is basic manners, obedience, potty training, etc. Large dogs that may not have this training need more time and commitment to helping them learn. 

What are some of the challenges big dogs and their owners face? What do you do to help them?
All dogs face the risk of being misunderstood. Many people don’t understand how dogs communicate or how they learn. We love for owners to educate themselves on basic body language, warning signs of discomfort, and vocalizations to avoid misinterpreting their own dog. 

People also have high expectations for how a dog should behave based on their own experiences or what they have seen in movies or tv, and when a dog acts differently, they think their dog is "bad" or "broken". The fact is, a lot of natural dog behaviors are often considered nuisance or deviant behavior which can set dogs up to fail. We task owners with resetting their expectations, being flexible, and finding outlets for their dog to be a dog.

It is easy for a big dogs' physical and mental needs to be underestimated. Most large dogs have a higher need for regular cardio outlets and daily mental engagement in the form of chewing, foraging, problem solving, basic training, and more. Owners should consider their schedule, their goals, their availability and how it will balance with the dog's needs when exploring a big dog adoption. Truly the best step any person can take to make large dog ownership successful is preparation and considerate matchmaking before bringing a dog into the home. 

Phantom shakes Kara's paw.

When owners seek out support, they are inundated with a plethora of information on dog behavior and training from social media, friends, family, internet, tv, etc. It can be difficult to determine what advice to follow and what methods will help their dog be successful. As it stands today, dog training is an unregulated business. That is to say, any person can claim to be, and operate as, a dog trainer with no credentials or oversight. This is why we encourage owners to find trainers who adhere to certain standards of practice, a code of ethics, completed educational courses in animal behavior, and have a stated commitment to reward-based training. Organizations such as CPDT, IAABC, KPA, and ADT, to name a few, provide certification programs and resource centers for finding reputable trainers.

Can you tell us more about Underdog Academy and how you came to be involved with SVPP? 
We formed Underdog Academy Dog Training to meet the increasing need of positive reinforcement training for common yet challenging dog behaviors. We wanted to get ahead of the issues that often land dogs in shelters. Through our local shelter-rescue connections and a wonderful trainer named Jessica Char (Canine Engineering), we were referred to SVPP to help with in-person training. We not only provide behavioral advice to the rescue group, we also meet with foster parents, potential adopters, and recent adopters to help guide them on basic training as well as addressing behavioral concerns. We’ve worked with many SVPP dogs, including Mamba. He is an active, smart, exuberant, and super affectionate dog. He needs time to warm up to new people as he can be nervous so we have worked with SVPP to build his confidence and put together a game plan for how to best introduce him so he can make new friends.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and member of the communications team.  She interviewed Kara and Hannah of Underdog Academy for this blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Season of Giving to Save Lives

As a long-time communications volunteer for SVPP, I’ve watched the organization grow and change in the most powerful way.  Since its inception in 2015, SVPP has evolved from a fledgling rescue group with an amazing rescue vision to a professional-level team with professional-level processes run by volunteers — who take seriously the value of every life.  I am proud every day to be part of this team.

SVPP rescues pets that sometimes don’t have any other option.  Without the extra medical and foster care, rehabilitation and recovery — and even behavioral support, many of these pets wouldn’t have survived.  The examples are numerous and heartfelt.  You can see some of them on our websites (SVPP and Pup Plaza), in our blogsFacebook and Instagram pages, and other social media.  I am awed when I see the commitment SVPP makes to each of its dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens.

The success stories are numerous and joyful. They are made possible by our dedicated volunteers and patient fosters, our skillful vets and rescue partners, and of course, our generous donors.  It is you and the very community that we serve who make this life-saving possible.

As you plan your holiday, year-end and charitable giving, we hope that donating to SVPP can be part of your joy.

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