Aimee in 2007
Get your dog fix and your dog fixed.
I started volunteering at Animal Haven, a shelter in Lower Manhattan’s SoHo, a few months after our Yellow Lab, Aimee, died of kidney failure.
I figured I could get my “dog fix” without the full-time responsibility, without the drudgery of early morning and late night walks, without waiting for an elevator to ride down 18 floors and back up again three or more times a day. Kinda like getting the milk without having to buy the cow, or so I thought.
I got my dog fix, all right. But I also began to really understand the plight of shelter animals. Did you know that . . . ?
- An estimated 6-8 million dogs and cats enter US animal shelters each year
- Of these, approximately 3-4 million are euthanized
- Only 15-20% of lost dogs are returned to their owners
- 21% of owned dogs were adopted from shelters and rescues
- 25% of dogs that enter local shelters are purebred
- 78% of owned dogs are spayed or neutered
- Only 10% of dogs received by shelters have been spayed or neutered
Think about that. Twenty-two per cent of dogs are NOT spayed or neutered. Therefore, 90% of the dogs received by shelters come from the pool of 22% unaltered dogs.
Three million euthanized animals is a huge number. But effective spaying and neutering campaigns and programs have reduced the number and percentage of killed animals considerably. Since animal cruelty organizations and animal shelters are not regulated at a national level, available stats are estimates that range widely, but the trend remains.
At Animal Haven, the small dogs, the sick dogs, and the new dogs stay upstairs in the Intake room. The larger dogs live downstairs in cement corrals. The downstairs dogs remind me of prisoners running their tin cups across the iron bars of a jail cell with their howling, their barking, and their sadness.
It breaks my heart to be only able to take care of one dog at a time. Even with all the cleaning and the washing and the walking, it never seems to be enough.
Few of the dogs are housebroken. Shelter life untrains those few pretty quickly. Walks are irregular. The cutest dogs probably get 15 walks a day, since most volunteers work two-hour shifts and walks are not logged. So the dogs sit in their corrals with their poop and their food and their Kuranda cots. Blankets and toys are not allowed in the corrals, for good reason.
Someone told me that Animal Haven is a boutique shelter—it is like the Hilton compared to Animal Control. Wow, I thought. I know the entire staff at Animal Haven has the best interests of the dogs at heart, but they can only do so much. What is the city pound like?
How long do you think it took to walk out of Animal Haven with a dog?
75-Pound Gateway Dog, Shadow
Gateway (formerly Gateway Plaza) quietly attached a Pet Rider to apartment lease renewals—a single page that looks like more legalese attached to a packet of legalese. But once word of the rider spread among the tenants, the reaction was anything but quiet.
Imposing Draconian rules, the Pet Rider states that each apartment may only house one pet; that pet must weigh under 40 pounds. Residents won’t be able to walk their dogs through the lobby, even though the only other building entrance is through the dumpster area. Pets must keep a mugshot on file and wear specially issued tags at all times. No other dogs can visit the building. Cats must be neutered and de-clawed and tenants must supply veterinary proof.
Pet owners must pay an annual $250 fee per pet. With a cat and a dog, that adds $40 a month to the rent. The rider also contains some common sense clauses about cleaning up after your dog and banning aggressive dogs. A list of a dozen breeds will be banned, including hunting dogs. Really? Beagles? You’re banning Snoopy, for chrissake!
Since the Pet Rider is attached to lease renewals, the implication is clear: the rules apply to existing tenants. Dog owners would be faced with moving out or giving up their pet. The president of the tenants association described the measures as “heavy-handed, arbitrary and inappropriate.”
Here’s the rub: Gateway tenants in residence since June 2009 or before are under a rent-stabilization agreement in effect until 2020. Some of these long-time tenants returned to Gateway Plaza after 9/11 displaced many of them for months. Now, many of these folks who chose to return to a decimated neighborhood are paying a bit less than market value on their apartments.
Now the Pet Rider Starts to Make Sense
Gateway markets itself lately as “luxury apartments.” The management is renovating apartments as they turn over, then jacking up the rent. That’s their prerogative. But if the Pet Rider goes into effect as stated, many of the rent-stabilized tenants will have to leave. Or maybe they finally will want to leave.
If the management wants the pets and the rent-stabilized tenants to leave, I suggest they adhere to their Republican principles and offer a buy-out instead of kicking them to curb.
Gateway, a community of six buildings, 1712 apartments in Battery Park City, was always pet-friendly and kid-friendly. Some might say Gateway is overrun with pets and kids. There is the dog contingent and the kid contingent and some who overlap. G. and I are firmly in the dog camp.
After the story broke on the local ABC news, management distributed a memo backpedaling on their initial intent, stating that “no pets currently in residence, regardless of size or breed are being asked to leave the property.” They’ve also reconsidered the rule on neutering and de-clawing cats.
Unfortunately, this still leaves many tenants in the doghouse.
A scruffy mop of a dog came to Animal Haven early last summer. She arrived from a puppy mill where dogs are over-bred, neglected and abused. Like most puppy mill dogs, Abagail was fearful and cowering.
I picked her up from the shelter on the hottest day of the year. I flagged down a gypsy cab and we took a bumpy ride from SoHo to Battery Park City. I heard small noises of unhappiness coming from the dog carrier.
The next day, Gene and I drove the shaved, pink-skinned girl from New York to her new home in Maryland with my parents. I sat in the backseat with our dog Shadow, and Abagail rode in her crate in the front.
Dad gave Abagail her new name, Yankee Poodle, appropriate for a poodle from New York. Since then, Mom and Dad concluded she’s not a poodle, but a Bichon Frise and I suspect she didn’t originate from New York. So what’s in a name?
Staying in the Batting Cage
The Second Inning
Over the next couple days, the bewildered Yankee Poodle would not come out of her crate. I did get her outside for a walk, but she could only walk in circles.
We discovered she loved chicken.
When Gene and I returned to Maryland in December, we found that Yankee had started the long road to recovery. She relished the parade of food and the soft quilts and how my mother spoiled her. Still, she was happiest in her crate.
Yankee put on some weight and she ate like a beast. My mom doesn’t call her Yankee, just “My Baby.” And Yankee is her baby.
Though Yankee wanted to badly, she didn’t leave the platform at the foot of the staircase. She danced at the edge when she was excited. But just when I thought she would step off, she pulled back.
Rounding The Bases
Look at Yankee Now
By February, Yankee weighed 26 pounds and had found her bark.
I suggested to my mom that she should probably not gain any more weight. Mom said she has gotten picky with her food. That’s what happens when a dog is no longer starving.
Yankee walks in a straight line and we discovered she loves massages.
My parents and Yankee are a perfect match. They have all the love and patience she needs.
After a three-week hiatus, I count wet noses as soon as I arrive at Animal Haven. The shelter population changes constantly and I want to see who’s new and who’s still waiting for their perfect family to show up.
The group New York Cares is on-site tonight scrubbing down walls and floors, giving the shelter a deep cleaning. I stay upstairs in the Intake Room for most of my shift and stay out of the way of the good people from New York Cares. Since most of the dogs downstairs are Yellow Dogs, the Intake Room with mostly mellower Green Dogs is the best place for me tonight.
I spent the evening with four new friends: Sonic, Helga, Laffy-Taffy and Snoop Dog.
Helga, a plump little Yorkie, hangs back quietly in her crate. But the moment we set our six feet on the sidewalk, Helga struts the neighborhood with confidence. A dog’s personality really becomes clear when it is just me and the dog together outside.
A cold wind is blowing and wise Helga determines the wind should always be at our back. (An Irish lass?) She turns only the corners that keep us moving ahead of the wind. Smart lady. Why didn’t I think of that?
Laffy-Taffy, a Shitzu-Yorkie mix, is irresistibly cute and blonde. She uses her cuteness to her advantage. I discover she is a “puller” as soon as we step outside the shelter for the first of our two walks. She must have skipped class the day they gave the leash lessons. But she is as smart as a whip, so she will learn fast.
Soon Laffy and I develop a pattern of walking together: a few steps forward, then we stop, then Laffy runs a couple of circles and looks back at me for my approval and affirmation of her cuteness. This makes for slow walking around the block, but who cares? We have no real destination.
Snoop Dog is a tiny Chihuahua. Putting a red plaid zip sweater on Snoop is like dressing a delicate baby doll. He starts shivering before we even get outside. He either knows how cold it is or else he loses his bravado once he leaves the security of his crate.
Sonic, a blond Husky-Shepard mix, is always smiling, but shows a clear preference for female handlers. He is technically a Yellow dog, but if the yellow ranking comes in shades, he is Yellow Lite. He and Laffy hold noisy conversations across the aisle. I am sorry I can’t walk you, Sonic. Maybe next time.
I am overdue to take the Yellow Dog class. Animal Haven never has enough “yellow dog” walkers at any given time. Glad to be back here at Animal Haven.
Happy New Year, Animal Haven and all you pups. May all the dogs that cross the threshold find their forever homes this year.
Oh yeah, and may the wind always be at your back.
A Warm Puppy
Do I smell like puppy poop to you?
Puppies haven taken over at Animal Haven. Sets of two and three puppies are cuddled together in nearly every dog corral and crate.
I spend my volunteer shift alternating between cleaning up runny puppy poop or holding puppies while another volunteer cleans up the poop. We all work together.
Animal Haven is hosting a wine event on the 3rd floor which I can’t get anywhere near because the puppies are moving . . . to foster homes, to permanent homes or just worming around the joint.
Chaotic shouts heard on the lower level:
—Inchworm just got adopted!
—Carnation is adopted!
—Missouri is going home tomorrow!
Ready for the Storm
A mandatory evacuation of our neighborhood sent me, my husband and our dog Shadow scrambling to the home of our friends Heather and George in Murray Hill. They extended an invitation that included said dog, despite their pint-sized NYC apartment and a jungle of plants brought in from the patio.
Irene’s wrath bypassed both Murray Hill and Battery Park City, so we fared better than many. Only slightly soggy, we found a restaurant open for lunch and another one open for dinner. Not much to choose from, so we were lucky to find Resto offshoot, Cannibal, open for lunch and Les Halles, open and waiting for dinner.
Our nights out with friends usually end after dinner, but on this rainy night, we continued the party at the apartment. Two more brave souls, Amy and Laurence, found a taxi to gouge them and bring them over.
The six of us had fun in a way we seldom do these days. And as a result, we ended up bonding closer.
What About the Animals?
I worried about the dogs and cats at Animal Haven as Irene threatened the city. Being evacuees, I was in no position to foster an animal. But Animal Haven managed to find foster homes for every last one of their animals.
Apparently, a lot of bonding was going on in those hunkered-down homes last weekend.
At my volunteer shift Friday, I find Animal Haven eerily quiet. Only two little guys are bedding down in the Intake Room and many corrals downstairs sit empty.
Many of the emergency fosters turned into adoptions and the dogs and cats never returned to the shelter. Once you’ve gone through a hurricane together, things change, I guess.
My heart-stealer Leo is among the adopted. I am happy that skinny boy found his home.
Despite the open berths, the Animal Haven staff are busy. They are prepping for the next wave of animals coming in—another reminder that there is never a shortage of animals that need rescue and need a home.
Returned to volunteer at Animal Haven after skipping a week and the shelter is swarming with puppies. I walked five pups, one after the other. I was never quite sure who was on the end of my leash. Later, I figured my guys must have been Alan Stuart, Montauk, Hampton I think, Moses and one sweet fellow who I can’t find on the Animal Have website.
The puppy room is full; corrals are doubled-up with puppies and the big sometimes-puppy room-sometimes I-need-to-be-alone room is now a dormitory with puppies and smaller adult dogs.
Between customers, puppies and clean-ups, I didn’t have a chance to give my latest favorite, Leo, a squeeze. Sweet Leo looks so forlorn. Before my shift is over, someone had wrapped his neck in a squishy blue cone. What ailment are you suffering, Leo?
I want to snatch him up and take him home, but that is for someone else to do.
Cha Cha Gets Adopted
For every crooked pot, there’s a crooked lid, my mother used to tell me. In what context did my mother impart that wisdom? Was I not invited to a grade-school dance? I don’t remember the situation but I always remember the words.
A few crooked canine pots pass through Animal Haven’s doors. Thankfully, their crooked lids usually show up in the store sooner rather than later.
But no dog waited longer for her matching lid than Cha Cha.
Okay, Cha Cha is huge and New York apartments are small. Okay, Cha Cha can destruct the indestructible. But what about the love, man? Staff and volunteers remained mystified, as month after month the gentle giant continued to be passed over.
I sensed a growing feeling at the shelter that Cha Cha would just remain senior-dog-in-residence forever. Even after she was featured in NY1′s In the Papers segment, no takers appeared. I was sure that the publicity would incite a wave of adoption applications.
A Champagne Toast to Bubbles
Compared to Cha Cha, Bubbles sailed in and out of the shelter. But I worried that the Bubbly might wait awhile for a prospective adopter to see the good deep-down.
Bubbles wore her heart on her sleeve when she should have played a little hard to get. Her separation anxiety manifested itself into ceaseless barking and her bunkmates surely got an earful.
I can image their advice to her:
—Just act coy, Bubbles!
—Live up to your name, Bubbles. More effusiveness, less desperation!
—Just put on a little lipstick!
Cheers to the folks who took these girls in their hearts and gave them a home.
Yankee, Before Grooming
—Your mother wants that?
I am holding Abagail who looks fragile and frightened. Pink skinned, almost hairless after a serious grooming, the little poodle has a sad-sack aura about her. Red tear stains cover most of her face and her paws.
But the comment by a tactless neighbor stings and I feel defensive.
I explain to the woman that Abagail was rescued from a puppy mill. My mother adopted her and I would be bringing Abagail to Maryland to meet her new parents.
Of course my mother wants that. She kept us kids didn’t she? She never made us feel ugly or pathetic even around age 11 or 12 when I may not have been ugly, but certainly awkward and pathetic.
A Smidgen of Doubt
It’s the night before our four-hour drive from New York to Maryland. Gene and I are coping with Abby’s nervous energy. She pees on the rug twice before we put her in a crate. She alternates between cowering in the crate and running in circles through the apartment. She is low to the ground and runs with a rat-like furtiveness.
I have a pang of doubt.
Abagail exhibits the behaviors typical of a puppy-mill dog who has spent her life neglected and cooped up. She will need a lotta love to get over her nervousness. Gene has been playing Neil Young’s version of Lotta Love the last few days and the song is stuck in my head.
A Good Sign
In the morning, I walk Shadow, my newly adopted dog, along South End Avenue. We run into the girl who recognized Shadow from the Animal Haven website the moment Shadow and I stepped out of the car together two months ago. I took the girl’s recognition as the first sign that Shadow belonged to us.
I take running into that girl again for the first time since then as a good omen for Abagail’s future.
On the hottest two days of the century, we are working out the logistics of picking up and loading up rental car, who is going to sit where and how we will keep the dogs safe and hydrated. But finally, we are on the road.
Was there any reason to doubt?
—Where’s my dog? are my mother’s first words after we pull up to my parents’ house.
We make a few attempts to dissuade her from rechristening the dog Yankee Poodle. I suggest Fuji, because it is an apple and represents Japan where we grew up. My brother John suggest Cubbie, because he is a Chicago Cubs fan. Gene suggests Yanko The Dentist after an obscure early 20th Century comic strip called Sherlocko The Monk. This idea is immediately dismissed. Yankee she will be. Yankee’s crate is in the center of the living room and Shadow lies beside her.
The conversation is dog, dog, dog—a fun night for dog people. A trip to Petsmart in the morning and my parents are ready to get on with the business of helping Yankee adapt to her forever home.
Shadow At Home
Exactly how long did I think it would be before I brought some sweet pup home from the shelter?
It was thirty days exactly.
I intended to foster a few dogs, to feel the warm fuzzies of canine companionship in short spurts while giving a few animals a comfortable, loving rest stop on the way to their permanent homes.
I knew Shadow would be the first beneficiary of our care and affection the first time I walked her at the shelter. Big yet graceful, Shadow makes walking beside the stalled Soho traffic and its honking horns as mellow as a walk in the ‘burbs. She is mostly deaf so it makes sense that she is unfazed by the noise.
She is house-trained and her house-training is deeply ingrained. Gene and I have experience un-house training and want to avoid the difficulty of re-house training. In this respect, Shadow is perfect.
June 6—D-Day—Shadow and I pull up to our apartment with her riding like a pro beside me in the back seat. I see Gene’s heart melt a bit when he first lays eyes on her. He claims indigestion. We step onto the curb and a woman calls out, “Is that Shadow?” What, a sign? Already?
We walk Shadow in her “Adopt Me” vest for about a week. The vest’s blaze orange draws attention but no takers. Soon it becomes too much of a pain to put the vest on. She likes long strolls through the neighborhood and I find it no trouble to set my morning alarm 45 minutes early.
We discuss adopting her ourselves, but we worry because she is seven at least, and flatulent. How long would we have her? But slowly, we realize she is not the only beneficiary in this deal.
Today I let the shelter know our intention. They knew all along, or were hoping anyway. Though the deal is not yet sealed, I go right to my Orvis bookmark and order the top-of-the-line memory foam bed I picked out last week. That’s commitment.