Going Away For The Holidays? Here Are a Few Things Your Pet Sitter Needs To Know.

Here in New England winter is often the time people try to get away for warmer climes.  Whether it’s for a weekend or a longer vacation though when pet parents go away they need to make arrangements for the furry family members staying behind.  Sometimes that means boarding or having a pet sitter come over a few times a day.  Sometimes it means that Fluffy gets a vacation of her own at a friend’s house or even that a friend comes to stay at her place (we could say it’s your place but really, who are we kidding).   Whatever the arrangements are you need to share more than your key and feeding instructions in order to keep everyone happy and healthy (and willing to pet sit again!).  Here are a few things I leave with people when my family goes away:

  1. A picture of each animal attached to their vet file. Each animal in our house has his or her own file with up to date pet records, any meds they take, etc that we keep upstairs in our office area.  When we go away those files come down to the kitchen counter along with a cover sheet showing a pic of the pet (we have 3 cats and a dog so sometimes pics are necessary to keep everyone straight).
  2. An introduction to any quirks the pet might have. Our dog Little Bit is the sweetest thing in the world.  Except for when the doorbell rings.  She hates (HATES!) the doorbell and launches herself at the door barking and jumping with all the fury of a 15 pound, sweet-faced, floppy eared animal who’s going to love whoever’s on the other side anyway whenever it rings.  Whenever we go away we leave a sheet of paper for each animal clueing our pet sitting friend in to whatever might make her experience…interesting.
  3. A quick list of numbers and addresses. This includes our cell numbers, our veterinary office’s number and address, Tufts Emergency Veterinary Center’s number and address, and my mother’s number, just in case.  If there is an emergency you don’t want the poor person scrambling around through that vet file looking for an address or phone number, better to just have it right there.
  4. The amount they can authorize to spend in an emergency. Steve and I learned the hard way that you need to have a number in your head and written down somewhere.  If there’s an emergency and the vet says it’s going to cost $1,000 to save Fluffy’s life your pet sitter can’t be expected to make that decision.  If she can’t reach you the only way she’ll know what to do is if you have a document somewhere that you have signed that says, “In the event of an emergency where I cannot be reached I authorize the expense of up to _________ in veterinary bills.” Take it from someone who said, “Do whatever you need to.” And got a bill for $3,000 6 hours later (cat still passed away).  You need to have an amount in your head and an authorization for your pet sitter.  Or pet insurance, but that’s a whole other post.

In addition to this there are a whole bunch of other common sense things that you probably already know about ranging from making sure Fluffy’s tags are up to date and on her to putting an old t shirt that smells like you in her bed so she has your scent when she gets lonely.  In fact, share your favorite tips in the comments below and maybe we can all learn from each other what works!

So You Think Your Parents Need A Pet

Pets are always giving to us. They give their love, their trust, their loyalty without reserve. At this time of year those qualities may make it seem like a pet would be the perfect surprise for a special person in your life. Here at the shelter we’ve already started fielding calls about giving pets for the holidays but surprisingly to us they’re not put the way we expected. We rarely get the, “I want to surprise my niece/nephew/boyfriend with a pet” calls here at the shelter. By and large people seem to understand that bringing an animal into a young family or relationship isn’t a good idea unless everyone is on board. No, at this time of year the calls we’re getting are more like this:

“My dad has been so lonely since mom died this past spring and I want to get him a dog to keep him company.”

“Mom fell and broke her hip and can’t leave the house much any more so I want to get her a cat to be with her.”

“My parents just retired. We had a great dog when I was a kid and I want to get them one now that they have lots of time.”

Yup. The calls we’re getting these days are largely from devoted, loving adult children concerned about their older parents. This is a particularly delicate conversation because it’s not just a holiday gift these people are asking for, it’s a chance to enrich the lives of their aging parents and give them something long term to have as a companion. It comes from a place of deep love and a desire to care for one of the closest and most important people in their world. Often the logic is that “It’s not the same as giving a kid a pet as a gift because mom/dad is older and has lots of time.” or, “I know it’s a good idea because we had a pet when we were kids and dad loved him!” Here’s the truth though, it’s NEVER a good idea to give someone a pet without their knowledge. NEVER!!!

Dad might still be grieving and not ready for a pet.

Mom might be terrified that the cat will get underfoot and cause her to fall again.

Maybe mom and dad have their own plans for retirement that don’t include a pet.

But let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s say none of this applies to you. Let’s say you’re sure, SURE that a pet is the perfect gift for mom, dad, or uncle Bob. OK. Please do this:

Come to the shelter and get a gift certificate for the adoption fee for the animal you’re thinking about. Yes, we do that! Then give the certificate as the gift and use it to start a conversation with mom, dad, or uncle Bob about whether they would like to add an animal to their lives. If they do, great! They can come here and pick the pet that they make a connection with (it might not be the one you would have picked) but if they don’t they can donate the fee back to the shelter, sponsor an animal for adoption by someone else, or even buy a bunch of dog sweaters and calendars (we’re not picky about how they spend it).

For animal lovers a pet might seem like the best possible gift, and it might be. But only when everyone involved is part of the conversation and on board with the adoption and only when the pet owner has been able to meet and connect with the pet in person before the adoption.

We Love You But We’re Not The MSPCA

cropped-apcsm_logo.jpgLet me tell you a story. Way way back in 2009, when the economy was in mid-tank and non-profits across the board were feeling the pinch of people who could volunteer their time, their talent, but not their treasure because, let’s face it, no one had any, the MSPCA was faced with a terrible problem. It simply didn’t have the resources to keep all of its locations open and serving the communities. It was a smart non-profit doing good work but like any organization it needed money to function and animal shelters need more than most. You see, not only do animals have daily needs that can’t be put of if there isn’t enough money for food, litter, or medicines but the amount of personnel required to keep a shelter clean, stocked, and in good working order is mind-boggling.

Faced with this situation and with the great recession continuing into its second year the MSPCA made a difficult choice. They would close 3 of their locations. Brockton, Springfield, and Martha’s Vineyard. This was kind of like the equivalent of a doctor amputating an arm to save the patient and it had to be done but it hit the communities of Southeastern Massachusetts hard, especially Easton and Brockton.

After the initial shock of it wore off a small group of Brockton shelter volunteers started talking and eventually found themselves in the finished basement of one of their own houses. Around the room sat a couple of business people, a veterinarian, the executive director of the Brockton shelter, and a few other dedicated volunteers who began to discuss an alternative plan. Could they, themselves, raise the funds to keep the shelter going as an independent entity? The talk led to research, the research led to a plan, and on October 1, 2009 the Animal Protection Center of Southeastern Massachusetts incorporated as an independent shelter. Our friends at the MSPCA not only blessed the venture but eventually sold us the land the shelter occupied for $1, land it still stands on now.

Today the APCSM is it’s own shelter with no ties to the MSPCA except for a friendly relationship. That’s an important distinction so I’ll say it again. We love them and the work they do but we are NOT the MSPCA. We receive no money from them, no food or supplies, no animals. We cannot use their veterinarians or medicines, their machines or resources. When you donate to them we do not get a dime and when you donate to us it all stays here. We both do good work for animals and we both passionately serve our missions to educate and serve the community. We love them but we’re not them. We’re you.

Our volunteers outnumber our staff 15 to 1. Visit our bake sale? Those are volunteers behind the table, most likely two friends who live in Brockton and Stoughton. That yoga teacher doing Meow-Ga? A volunteer who teaches professionally in Arlington. The lady patiently petting the scared kitty to help socialize her? She comes in from West Bridgewater. The Santa doing our holiday photos? Straight from the North Pole! We love the MSPCA but we are the Animal Protection Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. We are Southeastern Massachusetts’ community animal shelter.

The Ringworm Post

It’s an inevitable fact of animal shelter life: sooner or later ringworm’s coming to town. Every shelter deals with it and more than once. It infiltrated the APCSM last spring and then just this past Monday it reared it’s ugly head again. Yuk. So what is it? How do we contract, contain, and treat it at the shelter? What does it mean going forward. Strap in ladies and gentlemen because this is The Ringworm Post!

First things first: what is ringworm? Well, it’s not a worm for one thing; in fact there are no worms involved at all. It’s a fungus that grows on the skin and presents as a rash that looks like a worm curled into a ring under the skin, hence the name. For perspective think athlete’s foot, that’s a fungus too. It doesn’t present immediately but can incubate for 7-21 days before the distinctive rash develops along with skin flaking and hair/fur loss on the affected area. Most often we see it present on the head and ears of an animal and we are ALWAYS on the lookout for it because it’s highly contagious. If we even suspect a cat may have “the worm” we segregate it until we’re sure one way or the other.

The shelter takes a number of precautions to keep everyone healthy. First, we clean every day! That means each individual cage is cleaned with a special cleaning solution, all food and water dishes are sanitized every day, all laundry goes through a bleach cycle, toys too. Floors are scrubbed and mopped with a bleach solution and a special cleaning product called Kennel-Sol. In fact, while the shelter doesn’t open to the public until noon or 1pm staff is here at 8am. We need that 4-5 hours just to clean to our standards each day.

The next thing we do is keep both ourselves and the public clean between “interactions.” If you’ve been to the APCSM you’ll have seen hand sanitizer everywhere. That’s because every time we touch an animal we sanitize. If we pet a cat we sanitize immediately after. If we hold a guinea pig, we sanitize. If we touch a dog, we sanitize. This not only keeps us safe but it also prevents the spread of anything that might be on one animal to any other. So if we’re doing all this cleaning, sanitizing, and taking all of these preventative measures, how do we get ringworm at all?

Animals can contract ringworm in a number of ways. The spores are incredible hardy outside and can survive for up to a year without a host. They can live in the soil as well as on bedding, brushes, furniture, rugs, etc. It often enters a shelter on a cat (simply because we take in more stray cats that have been out in the elements than dogs, who are usually surrendered by owners) and it’s extremely contagious so it can spread like wildfire once it gets in. It can actually spread as easily as hair follicles falling off the cat during the shedding process and coming in contact with another cat. Here are some other ways it happens:

  • If infected kitty is in a kennel with another cat underneath and kitty sheds that fur can spread the disease on the cat underneath.

  • If any staff member or volunteer doesn’t sanitize after touching infected kitty whatever animal the human touches next is exposed.

  • At some point during shelter hours if a potential adopter pets infected kitty and then without sanitizing their hands in between pets another one then that animal is exposed.

  • If someone plays with infected kitty with a toy and then puts that toy back in the toy bin instead of the laundry pile for bleaching the spores can get on anything the toy touches and then all the cats that play with that toy are exposed.

In 24 hours ringworm can spread from that one infected kitty to the whole cat room. So once we find it we take serious measures to stop it.

When we found the first case of ringworm this time it was actually due to staff being extra cautious. A cat was surrendered with what a veterinarian had told the owner was a flea allergy. Staff accepted the cat based on the diagnosis but kept the cat in the evaluation area and ran a ringworm check just in case. When the test came back positive we immediately quarantined the cat but it was already too late. One of the cats that had been in a cage in proximity to our patient zero went onto the adoption floor and when we checked, he showed symptoms. It had officially entered the cat room on Monday afternoon, less than 72 hours after we accepted the infected cat. We closed the shelter the following day and began sterilization and treatment procedures for every single cat in the shelter.

IMG_1027Treatment for ringworm in the shelter looks like a cross between the TV show ER and Holi, the Indian festival of colors. Staff don full sterilization gear and dip every cat in a lyme-sulfur solution that not only kills ringworm but temporarily dyes the cat yellowish orange. As you can imagine, the cats are not consulted about this. To keep moral up we turn on “the tunes” which this time around alternated between early Christmas music and classic rock. The cat room is completely sterilized and any furniture that can’t be bleached is tossed.

If you’ve gotten this far you might have a couple of questions. FAQ’s we encounter during a ringworm outbreak include:

Is it contagious to humans?

Yup. That’s why we have hand sanitizer everywhere and ask the public not to stick their fingers through the cages. We don’t think any humans who visited us on Sunday would have contracted it but just in case you can see what symptoms on a human look like here.

I adopted an animal this past weekend. Is it infected?

We caught this case very quickly and we think we have it well contained. Remember, the patient zero cat never went onto the adoption floor. What we’ve done though is sent out an email to everyone who adopted a cat this past weekend with symptoms to look for and what to do if they think they see ringworm on their cat.

When can I adopt/surrender/visit a cat?

We’re not going to open for cat adoptions or surrenders or adoptions until we’re sure it’s gone. We’re sure it’s contained right now so we will be adopting and taking dogs and small animals but for cats be prepared to go to another shelter or wait for at least 2 weeks.

What’s happening to the cats?

As we started treatment we took the cats that we think had been exposed to ringworm and quarantined them. They will be treated and made available for adoption once they are well. We are also treating every cat in residence with the lyme-sulfur dip to be absolutely safe. If you would like to help sponsor the care of a ringworm affected cat please consider donating to our Life Is Precious Fund.

How can I help?

We’ve created a “Ringworm Revenge” wish list in Amazon with everything from bleach to sterile gowns. If you can help us out there we’d really appreciate it. We also need towels and flat sheets because we had to toss so many. Finally, we also need your help educating people so that everyone understands how seriously we take cleanliness at the APCSM and the welfare of our animals, and managing a ringworm outbreak.

Thanks for bearing with us as we treat the animals. If you have any other questions please feel free to call the shelter. We are always happy to talk.