Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve at the Elephant Sanctuary

I've always felt New Year's Eve was a forced holiday. I can't ever remember having a very good time at a NYE party, even when I was dating someone! Unless a neighbor invites me over for a drink and to watch a good dvd, I'll happily stay home and watch the Twilight Zone marathon.

So, if there are any other boring people out there like myself who will be staying home tonight I wanted to alert you to a fun virtual NYE party going on at the Elephant Sanctuary. They started it last year with posting new videos of the girls and a live streaming video with sounds of the girls in their barn at night. Listening to all that trumpeting is not to be missed! I believe they will have new videos posted every hour. Festivities start at 4:00 pm (CST). Check them out at

To get you in the mood, I'm posting the Elephant Sanctuary's latest ele-update. It's a hoot!


During a late night feed last week Carol lost her favorite earflap hat. It was pouring down rain, so she headed back to the barn with the plan to retrieve her hat the next morning. But the next morning the hat was nowhere to be found. All of the staff at the Quarantine barn were on the lookout for this favorite hat, but it was soon accepted that some form of wildlife had found it and carried it off to their den; what a warm bed that would make! But today while Julia was out feeding the elephants, she found Carol’s hat and called immediately to report her find. Carol rushed out with the camera in order to share the news with all of you. Lottie had not only found the hat, but had tasted it, chewed on it, dragged it through the mud, played tug of war with Minnie with it, and finally tossed it on top of her back where it lodged itself in the fresh mud caking Lottie’s back.

It was kind of cute, like a colorful mouse-size throw blanket. When Carol approached to take pictures and retrieve the hat, Lottie was amused and Minnie was by her side, likewise interested in what Carol was so focused on. Lottie approached Carol chattering, and after many photos were taken, was happy to stand still as Carol reached up to the top of Lottie’s back with a long stick to retrieve the hat. Well, it was really no longer a hat; actually at this point it resembled more of a turtle neck sweater, minus the sweater part because of the large openings at either end. It was no longer any use as a hat so Carol tossed the hat to Jessie the dog who grabbed it and raced off as if he had just scored the best toy ever, with Miai and Java on his heels!


Update: check out the video link below. It is SO adorable! It shows other four-legged folks that call the Elephant Santuary home.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas goes to the cats

A good Christmas was had by Possumlady. I went over to my sister's house where we had her traditional Christmas dinner of Prime Rib with yorkshire pudding, my creamed onions, grilled asparagus and a wonderful salad with dried cranberries and macadamian nuts.

Before I left for my sisters, I sprinkled catnip both inside and on the front porch for the outside kitties. I returned home around 10:00 pm feeling both stuffed and exhausted. My sister lives about an hours drive away which is not too bad but I do have to drive the dreaded beltway. I don't mind it too much during the day but it seems much more dangerous at night.

A Christmas moon.

Anywho, I should have gone right to bed but I couldn't resist giving the cats their presents from my sister. It was an entire box of cat toys!! I have never seen so many. I just set the open box on the floor with the tissue paper still in it and stepped back to see what would happen.

This is right after the initial mayhem. Oliver is sitting on the overturned gift box. Notice the shreds of tissue paper.

"Say your prayers mousie"

"Let me just nibble on your tail a wee bit"

"I know I should be playing with this little stuffed stocking, but it is awfully late."

(Yawn) "I think it makes a very nice pillowwwzzzzzzzzzzzzz"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas!!

From Santa Claws (aka Sweet Pea)....

And his trusted sidekick, Woody the black-nosed reincat.

Okay, a little background here. I was at Petsmart and found these little cat hats and HAD to buy them. I must have seemed a little unbalanced as I stood in line to pay, laughing to myself while looking at the hats. Someone asked "Are those for cats?!!" I said "YES, I can't imagine EVER getting one of my cats to wear these but I have to try!!"

Sweet Pea has this annoying habit to jump and sit in my favorite chair and WILL NOT BUDGE. Trying to get him to move involved lots of cajoling from me and cries and growls on his part. This particular time he just would. not. move. Hmmm, I thought, a perfect time to get the santa hat out. I put it on him as he continued to growl. I was laughing which did not improve his mood. I then ran to get the camera and fired off a number of shots before he jumped off the chair and pulled the hat off. So, the above photo is of one ANGRY Santa Claws.

Woody on the other hand, while not too pleased to have his ears covered, nonetheless, put up with it because his mom laughs and pays attention to him. Both good things as far as Woody is concerned.

A Very Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless us.....

Every One!!

Love, Possumlady and everyone here at the Possumlady Home for Wayward Animals.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Great Gift Book

One of the great things about my association's annual conference is that we have a huge exhibit hall with over 1200 exhibits. Anything the early childhood educator might need is there. For me, I always check out the latest children's books. I love simple children's books and the beautiful artwork usually goes along with it.

The last few years, I have to say, have been lean. Maybe there were some great books out there but I really didn't have the time to look through all the exhibits. I was, after all, working almost 12 hour shifts at our association's headquarters office.

This year after a particularly frustrating morning, a coworker said "let's just get out of here for a while." I didn't need anymore prodding then that. I felt like a kid cutting class! We quickly walked to the exhibit hall where my coworker was hoping to get a few things for her grandkids. I almost walked past an exhibit, but a stuffed fawn toy caught my attention. (At 48 years old, I'm still a sucker for stuffed animals.) It was the exhibit for the photographic husband and wife team of Carl Sams and Jean Stoick. They had just come out with a new book entitled "First Snow in the Woods" I fell in love with it.

Here let me show you:

It's a story about a young fawn experiencing his first winter. All the other animals in the woods know they need to prepare or leave. The fawn is worried and confused but his mother keeps telling him he will be all right.

How can you not love a book with a dedication page like this!?

The photography along with the beautiful prose make this a very enchanting book.

I thought of Mary when I saw this photo.

I was lucky to get my copy signed by Carl Sams. So if you have any budding young naturalists on your gift list, or old naturalist wanna be's, like me, I highly recommend this book.

Now onto something completely different.

Just because I can't seem to post without a cat photo. This past weekend we were spared the ice and sleet storm predicted. What we did get though was a weekend of cold rain and harsh winds. The cats did NOT want to be outside. I was busy cooking and cleaning and walked into my bedroom to find this

I sighed, gave them all pats while calling them a bunch of slugs, and went back to my cooking and cleaning.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nothing Special

I had a terrible day at work today. Yesterday was no picnic either. The time after our big annual conference and before the holidays is usually a time of quiet. A time to catch your breath and play catch up. But it is not that way this year. Our Board continues to push us along and my boss continues to say "yes, we can do that...and MORE" Everyone is stressed. My boss, who is usually a very easy-going guy, has snapped at me more times in the last week then I can remember. I've just about had it. Oh if I were only 10 years older, I would tell them to shove off. Our holiday party is Thursday afternoon and I honestly am stressed thinking about how much time the party will take away from all the other things I need to be doing. This is the first year since our office started collecting toys for charity for the holidays that I have nothing to offer. I just completely forgot about it and I have no time to run out to a Target. I'm suffering from a bad case of the blahs or some serious ennui.

So, I'll just post some photos that really don't belong in any story.

Here's Toby last week the day after our snowfall. All the cats stayed in that day but I could not get Toby to come inside. I think by the time I got home from work though, he was more then ready.

Crouching Woody---Hidden Sparrows. I'm embarrassed to point out the vertical streaks on the window where Woody sticks his nose all day.
I was trying to get a photo of the Red Bellied woodpecker but I think my neighbor brushing off his car thought I was taking a photo of him!

And, lastly, here is Greybeard helping me navigate all the blogs I try to read. He would literally keep his paw on me the entire time if I didn't push it off occasionally. For a cat paw it is surprisingly heavy when you are trying to type!

Here's hoping for a better day tomorrow. Good night!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


First photo taken around 8:30 am on December 5, second photo taken around 9:00 on December 6

There is nothing that can make me feel more like a happy little 5 year old then the first snow of the season. I think I shall always have to live in an area that gets at least a handful of snowfalls each winter. I have snow in my blood.

Even though I was wearing sensible office attire today, inside I felt like this little girl again. Okay, maybe without the HUGE banana.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Happy Anniversary Butterball and Apu!

It was 11 years ago today that I picked up Butterball and Apu from the shelter to start our new lives together. It was also 11 years ago this past September that my first and only cat, Bill, who was 13 years old, was diagnosed with an inoperable agressive oral tumor attached to his upper jaw. My job was to try and make him as comfortable as possible until I could tell that he no longer enjoyed food or being petted and the most loving thing would be to put him down. I did that in mid-November. Being single and coming home to an empty house each night after work was sheer torture. With the holidays fast approaching, everyone was telling me to wait until the first of the year to get another cat. I just couldn't wait and started taking trips to my local animal shelter. First to donate some money in Bill's name, then to start casually looking at the cats. I vowed at that time that I would never have just one animal. As I mentioned, when Bill died, it was too hard coming home with no one to greet me.

I found Butterball almost immediately. Even in the best of shelters, the noise and chaos can be overwhelming. To find a cat that is neither desperately trying to get out of his cage or terrified scrunched up at the back of the cage is a rarity. Butterball was just lounging taking everything in. I opened the cage to pet him and he immediately rolled over on his back for me to rub his belly. A cat has to feel incredibly secure in order to do that and I was smitten. I asked for him to be taken to the meet and greet room for cats and was shocked to see that he didn't have a tail! I asked was he born like that or did someone do that to him? The volunteers didn't know. Honestly, at first, the no tail thing kind of turned me off. But, three year old "Big Baby Butterscotch", his name at the time, won me over with his incredible combination of inquisitiveness and laid back attitude. I also kept saying to him, why you're just a big ol' Butterball and the name stuck. It didnt' take me long to figure out that Butterball was a Manx and he has all the characteristics of one--very dog-like, follows people around, protective of his home, and very calm. In Manx cats, their back legs are longer than their front legs so their back is rounded and sticks up. When they run they have almost a hopping gait like a rabbit which is a riot to watch.

Okay, I filled out the paperwork for Butterball. I needed to find another cat rather quickly as I wanted to bring them home together so there wouldn't be any turf wars. No other cat really appealed to me at the time. But, as many of you know, I am a sucker for the underdog. I had already made a decision that I would not get another black cat right away (Bill was black), and NEVER get another kitten (Bill was 6 weeks old when I got him). The kitten rule was for two reasons. One, I already raised a kitten and knew of their destructiveness and the fact that you basically could get nothing done with a kitten around. I also knew that kittens were adopted much, much more quickly than adult cats and I wanted to give another adult cat a home.

One Saturday afternoon I was at the shelter and this volunteer was there cuddling this little black kitten named Simon. He had a respiratory infection so was not very active. She kept saying how cute he was and didn't understand why everyone always passed him by. I asked her about him and she said at almost 3 months old, Simon had been passed from one family to another, about 4-5 times. He had already been at the shelter for almost a month which is pretty unheard of for a kitten. I sighed and said, can I hold him? Well, I never saw someone move as fast as that volunteer did to put Simon in my arms. He just looked at me and blew a little snot bubble from his nose, started purring, then fell fast asleep in my arms. I said, do you want to come home with Butterball and me? And, that was that. I filled out the paperwork and on December 2, 1996 I brought them home. Now, many of you know that The Simpsons is one of my all time favorite programs and friends kept saying that I had to name one of the cats Apu, since it was my favorite character and for some reason, I just loved to say "Apu". So, Simon became Apu.

After about a month, Butterball took up the role of loving uncle to Apu. Here he is making sure Apu's ears are nice and clean. Here's to hopefully many more years together.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Word of Advice

In these upcoming cold winter months (for which I'm very grateful), when you are sitting at home listening to your furnace chugging along and wondering why it is not getting any warmer. Before you call a repair person, make sure your heating vents are free and clear of any foreign objects such as...

and this...

Butterball and Woody would like to go on the record though that they would never block their mom's heating vents. They prefer to usurp the laundry basket, preferrably one with warm, clean clothes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Things I'm Thankful For

I've been enjoying my five days off. Our conference did so well this year that my boss closed the office on Wednesday so we would get a full five days off. As much as I enjoy Thanksgiving, I think I enjoy the days after even more. No traveling, no last minute preparations to make sure everything hits the table hot and at the same time. Just lounging around with my cats, raking a few leaves now and then, eating leftover stuffing and turkey and sweet potatoes. I made my famous creamed onions and made a new dessert. Luckily my sister had a pumpkin ice cream pie also as my dessert didn't do anything for me. It looked so good in the magazine. It was a Three Nut Torte with a chocolate glaze. It had crushed pistachios, almonds, walnut oil and I even added a few crush pecans. Along with rum, vanilla and sugar. It just didn't taste like anything. It was very moist and sweet but with no umph. Oh well.
Onto things that I'm thankful for:

Sunrise on Thanksgiving morning. View from my front porch.

My black cherry tree. I love fall colors!!

I'm very thankful that Butterball is not as seriously ill as I had worried. I took him in on Tuesday afternoon to the cardiologist for an echocardiagram. It was quite amazing watching his heart and seeing it from all the different sides. Seeing the massive equipment and the care the vet took with Butterball and analyzing the results, it was well worth $450.00. She did not find any adult heartworms on or around his heart. Butterball's heart was normal size. The only thing she did find was a "trivial to mild mitral regurgitation" due to mild degenerative valvular disease. Basically, one of Butterballs valves wasn't closing all the way and a little amount of blood was leaking back into the heart chamber. She said this was very common in animals of Butterball's age (14) and that it is a very slow disease I shouldn't be concerned with. Even if the disease did advance, there is medication for it. But, since he has lost weight and did test positive for having the heartworm antibody, she wants to put him on monthly heartworm preventative. That way, if there are any little baby heartworms still in his blood, the preventative will keep them from becoming adults. She also prescribed a pill, sort of a bronchial dialator(sp?) to help with his occasional mouthbreathing. So, I just have to bring him in to my regular vet for a check up in six months and again to the cardiologist in about a year and a half. All in all, good news. As I was walking out of the cardiologist's office I was thanking her and saying I was relieved the diagnosis wasn't nearly as bad as I had envisioned. She laughed and said "well, you're a woman and women always fear the worse for our loved ones." I think she is right.

I'm thankful for three pee-free nights from Greybeard! I was hoping for four but I have to take what I can get.

Little Figaro (or as I start calling him around this time of year "Figgy Pudding") is such a sweet little thing. He always has a sleepy expression.

Sweet Pea was dianosed with Feline Urinary Syndrome in 2003. It means that his urine is not acidic enough and he develops crystals that block the flow of urine. He has been hospitalized 3 times from 2003 to 2004. Since then I found a wonderful product from Drs. Foster and Smith called, what else, Urinary Acidifier. It is in a paste form that I just put on Sweet Pea's front paw twice a day and he has been symptom-free since 2004! I am VERY thankful for that.

BIG, BIG thing to be thankful for. Maggie the Lone African elephant from the Alaska Zoo was finally transported (by an Air Force Cargo plane) to her new home at the Performing Animal Welfare Society in northern California. She has met all the other elephants (with a fence still dividing them). The caretakers are thrilled with how well Maggie is adapting to her new home. They are taking her out daily for walks up and down hills to build up her muscles before they remove the barriers between her and the other elephants. Elephant greeting can be very physical with a lot of bumping and head butting and they want to make sure Maggie is strong enough to withstand the gregarious greetings from her new elephant family.

Yes, a lot to be thankful for this year.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tired and Worried

I've been out of the blogsphere for a while. My association has an annual conference every year, usually the first week of November. Before the conference our governing board has a two day meeting. Just preparing for the meeting alone is stressful. Add preparations for the conference, preparations for someone taking care of my herd of cats while I'm out of town for a week, etc. makes for a very grumpy and stressed out possumlady. Our conference (this year in Chicago)draws a crowd of anywhere from 20-25,000 people. For an introvert such as myself the week borders on torture.

Something had to give and a week ago last Sunday night while I was having dinner with our governing board I felt a familiar twinge in my jaw while I was eating. I, along with Mary, suffer from TMJ problems. Once I feel a twinge I need to give myself megadoses of naproxen in the hopes that a full blown attack will not occur. If that happened at conference I would have been useless. TMJ pain manifests itself differently in different people. For me, a full blown attack means the swelling of the muscles in my jaw press against the nerves in my face. It basically feels like every tooth in my mouth is badly infected and throbs with pain. My teeth are even painful to the touch. I decided I had to be anti-social and at the end of every day, instead of going out with colleagues, I headed back to my room to ice my jaw and decompress from the day. It worked! No full blown attack.

I flew back home late Saturday night. Oh, my fur-babies were so happy to see me. I awoke hot and sweating on Sunday around 5:00 a.m. to find 7, yes 7 cats basically plastered to my body, with Butterball making sure he got the prime real estate around my face.

That reminded me to make sure to call my vet. I had taken Butterball in the week before the conference as it seems like he has lost weight and occasionally he will mouth breath when he exerts himself by jumping on the bed. Well, he has lost 2 pounds since March but the vet did not seemed too concerned. He said his lungs sounded good and, of course, he did not mouth breath at all when he was at the vet. My vet thought he looked great for an over 14 year old cat. He took some blood to do a good blood workup on him. I never heard back so I called today and there does seem to be a problem. Butterball's glucose levels, kidney and liver functions all tested normal. But, he did have a very high white blood cell count that my vet said is indicative of two things. One could be a parasitic problem and the other is allergies. The parasitic problem could be very serious---heartworm. Sometimes there are no symptoms, but some of the symptoms can be--weight loss and trouble breathing. And, to make matters worse, there are no standards in treatment of heartworm in cats. Vets just kind of modify the dog treatment, and in looking it up on the internet find out that 70% of cats that are treated for heartworm die because of the treatment. I just don't know what I'll do if that is the case. I'm bringing Butterball back to the vet's tomorrow so they can take more blood to test specifically for heartworm. If it is allergies, I can breath a sigh a relief and the vet said we would just do a round of steriod shots.

So, say a little prayer for Butterball tonight.

The vet's assistant once asked me with all the cats that I had if I had a favorite. I told her "I always tell my cats that I have no favorites and love them all equally. Then I whisper to Butterball 'but if I DID have a favorite, it would be you!'

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dia de los Muertos

Happy Day of the Dead everyone!

(I wrote this on the evening of October 31 but saved it as a draft to print on November 1 but blogger still dated it October 31! Day of the Dead is celebrated November 1-2.)

This holiday means a great deal to me. After my friend Paul was killed in July of 1992, everyone just kind of went their own way. We were all in a fog of grief. In the fall of 1992 a few friends and I were trying to think of a way to get all his friends together again. I had just recently heard of the celebration Dia de los Muertos and suggested that. A couple of friends balked thinking people would not understand and might think it was in bad taste. Harummph, I thought. I went to the local library (remember this was BEFORE the internet) and researched the Day of the Dead. I went back to my friends saying we absolutely HAVE to have a Dia de los Muertos party to honor and celebrate Paul's life (it didn't hurt that Paul was Hispanic--or as he liked to refer to himself "hipspanic"). Everyone agreed and the work began.

I wrote up the invitations and then we went to work making the decorations. Oh it was so much fun. You have to understand that it had just been over 3 months since Paul was killed. Three months seems to be the time in the grief cycle when you are just realizing that you will never ever see that person again. Before that it was easy to think "oh, he's just on vacation, or he's on a business trip". Three months unfortunately, also seems to be the time when most everyone else not dealing with the grief seems to think you should be getting back to your normal self. I'm just sayin it was a hard, hard time.

We got paints and plastic skulls and made papier mache skulls and crosses. This filled our weekends. Below are some of the photos I dug out from the party.

Here is a photo of the altar where we had photos of Paul, some personal items of his, a glass of water to quench his thirst on his trip back to our world and a plate of some of his favorite foods.

Here is a close up of the altar. You can't see but there is a VOTE DEMOCRAT bumper sticker! Yes, he did have some weird food favs including carrots, cucumbers, fried pork rinds, and smarties.

The decorated mantel filled with marigolds. Marigolds are very important in Dia de los Muertos. They have a very pungent smell that mexicans liken to the smell of death. I made and painted the cross (I was also going through a Frida Kahlo period ;-)) and the painting in the middle. I titled it "The Dance of Death".

Here I am with friend Chris N. at the end of a very successful party. Chris and his wife Susan drove all the way up from the Gulf Shores of Alabama to come to the party. Chris's family has a fishing business and they brought up a boat load of shrimp for the party. I don't think I ever ate so much shrimp in my life!! Many tears were shed at the party but the laughter and dancing far outweighed the tears. Paul would have loved it. He did love it.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Month Late

Fall that is. Oh yes, we've been teased by a few cooler days and nights but then Nature decided we just needed a bit more weather in the mid-80s with high humidity while preparing for Halloween! That all changed Thursday and Friday. Heavy rains and wind for two days straight with highs on Friday barely making it to 60. My kind of weather! I can tell you who didn't appreciate all the rain though--

I don't think you can tell from this photo just how wet little Chloe is. All during the day on Friday as the rain just kept coming down harder and faster, I kept saying "oh, the poor kitties, I hope they took cover under the front porch"
Toby seemed to be pretty dry and was much more concerned about getting enough food.

Have you ever gotten beaned by one of these acorns? They can pack quite a sting coming from one of the huge oak trees around here. The winds on Thursday and Friday brought down a ton of these.

Today is a brilliant clear blue day with north winds. Looks like there are only a few seeds left on my dogwood. Friday night also signaled Fall because of necessity for these:

Pulling on socks for the first time this season. Boy do they feel good! Okay, so I couldn't find the matching sock for either pair but they were still comfy! They are called "Soft as Cloud" socks and I don't think there is a natural fiber in them but I don't care--I love them!
Today I feel like cooking so I'm making my Aunt Pauline's spagetti sauce. My family is not Italian, but my Aunt Pauline was married to one--my Uncle Frank Aiello. Unfortunately, they have both passed on but the Aiello spagetti sauce lives! Before my aunt could marry, she had to learn how to cook all of my uncle's favorite italian dishes by his mom. The first step is to brown garlic powder in olive oil. That smells always brings back memories of my Aunt cooking up at their resort in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
I'm cooking the sauce while listening to one of my favorite CDs, Amore: The Great Italian Love Arias. I've also had a hankering for some peanutbutter blossom cookies--you know, the ones with the hershey kiss in the middle. So that is next on my agenda this afternoon. If I have time later in the day I will post the recipe for the spagetti sauce.
So, what have YOU done this weekend? Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bursting with Pride

I've been a supporter and volunteer of the Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL) since 2002. They are literally a 2-minute drive from my house. I've been a cat socializer and a dog walker. I've contributed money, food, toys, pet beds, blankets, dog coats, and towels over the years. In fact, I'm working hard to pay off my house in order to be able to work there in about 10 years. (I'd be working there now, but even the best animals shelters don't pay enough for me to pay the bills.)

WARL has gone through a multi-million dollar renovation and is one of the most progressive shelters in the country. They have been getting a lot of much deserved and much needed press lately. The latest was an article in USA Today last week that I'm reprinting here, although I do have to make one correction to the article. They state that New Age music is piped in. Actually, it's classical music:

In D.C., a serene shelter for homeless pets

The Washington Animal Rescue League's shelter was designed from the animal's point of view to promote physical, mental and social healing. This pet is enjoying one of the "cat condos."

Sharon Peters, Special for USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Water cascades soothingly over the skylights. New Age music is piped in. Radiant heat oozing up from the floors and memory-foam Murphy beds that drop down from the wall ensure that the residents suffer no unnecessary discomfort.

Life is serene for the 270 homeless dogs and cats lounging about the adoption arenas of the Washington Animal Rescue League, a recently renovated animal shelter that has spurned convention by elevating the temporary care, housing and rehabilitation of rejected pets to an entirely new level.

"Whatever circumstances landed them in a shelter" — whether they were strays, abandoned, turned over by terminally ill owners or rescued from inhumane conditions — "was traumatic for them," says Scotlund Haisley, the executive director who persuaded his board to support a $4 million renovation. Every detail is intended not to pamper animals "but to simply respond to their basic needs" during the time when they have no home, no family and no ability to see or hope beyond the present.

"The traditional model of animal shelters not only doesn't meet the animals' needs, it works against them," he says. Features that might stress animals and cause them to spiral into attitudes and behaviors that would make them unattractive to potential adopters, from cages and chain-link to insufficient contact with humans and animals, were rejected.

Dogs are assigned, usually in pairs, to glass-block "dens" with clear-glass Dutch doors on top that any visitor can open to offer a pat. Cats get glass-fronted units, each with its own private litter-box area as well as an aperture that allows sociable felines to visit kitty neighbors. There are multiple play areas for dogs and for cats; a perpetual waterfall for cats seeking a running-water drink; and an innovative ventilation system that has essentially eliminated pass-along infections common in shelters.

It has all resulted in calm, well-adjusted animals that act neither frantic nor depressed when visitors walk by, and an adoption rate Haisley says is on track to be three times higher than before the renovation.

A new type of shelter

WARL is on the leading edge of a new generation of shelters aiming to overcome the stereotype of depressing repositories of sad, hopeless pets and increase adoptions. Among them:

•PAWS Chicago opened its brand-new adoption center, smack in the middle of upscale Lincoln Park, on Sept. 6 after four years of planning and fundraising. There are no cages. It features classical music, a fireplace and coffee bar in the reception area, a rooftop garden and natural light.

"We did our research and included everything we could think of that would de-stress the animals and also make this an inviting place for the public," says PAWS' Paula Fasseas, a banker who founded the group 10 years ago. PAWS Chicago had expected to place 1,700 animals this year, but the surge after the opening has put them on track to place as many as 4,000. "I hear every day from people who say, 'We've been wanting to adopt but couldn't go to a shelter because it was too sad,' " Fasseas says.

•At the Richmond, Va., SPCA, soothing shades of aqua, lavender and blue; classical music; spacious "catillions," where 10 or so felines live, climb and lounge in harmony and where would-be adopters enter to watch and play with them; and "townhouse rooms" where dogs relax in cozy surroundings and visitors can enter and hang out with them are among features contributing to a "steady increase in adoptions," chief executive officer Robin Starr says.
The place is so inviting, community people sometimes spend lunch hours there, even without intending to adopt, "and we love that," Starr says. "It's more people-contact for the animals."
Such new-wave shelters provide medical care for the animals they take in and also run large spay/neuter programs for pets in the community, providing thousands of free or low-cost sterilizations.

Most of Haisley's inspiration for WARL's renovation came from unconventional sources. After a holistic vet recommended harp music because it suggests running water, which animals find as relaxing as humans do, Haisley decided flowing water would be integral to the design. And when he was seeking ideas for reducing anxiety and aggression among a population not keen on confinement, he studied progressive prisons for humans.

The dog-enclosure design that allows visitors to reach in is unheard of in most shelters because of dog-bite concerns, but Haisley believes connecting with people keeps the dogs stable. No visitor has been bitten. "All these animals have been temperament-tested before we put them on the adoption floor," he says. But mainly, "they're just not in the high state of stress and anxiety that exists in most shelters," so unexpected aggression doesn't occur.

A model for the country

Shelter personnel from throughout the country are making pilgrimages to WARL to seek ideas for their own new buildings.

Officials from Montgomery County, Md., where design plans for a new, $12 million shelter were "pretty far along," visited WARL several weeks ago and have now decided to "go back to the drawing board to incorporate features we saw there," says Jennifer Hughes, special assistant to the County Executive.

Now that they've seen what's possible, "we are not going to build the same-old same-old," Hughes says. "Our feeling is if you do this right, you perform your mission much more effectively."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Getting a Second Chance

Wildlife rehabilitators are a special breed of people. Basically, I'm in awe of them. The time and commitment they give to our wild neighbors that are sick or injured is nothing short of heroic. Julie Z. comes to mind. Taking a little animal with you in your purse to outings because it needs to be fed every 20 minutes or so, now THAT's commitment. At a time, I thought that I would like to go through the training to become one. But, I realized that I was way too sensitive. Okay, I'm a wuss. Not dealing with blood and all that stuff, I have no problem with that. But death is a part of life of the wildlife rehabber and I think each little death would affect me too much.

Yesterday, Second Chance Wildlife Center, the largest wildlife rehab center in my county had its annual Open House. This is their one and only fundraiser for the year. My neighbor Karin and I went to support them and to see what animals they were currently housing.

This is Nic, a Great Horned Owl. Nic doesn't live at the Sanctuary. Folks from West Virginia raised Nic, who was injured at a very early age. He goes to various festivals and schools to raise awareness about wildlife.

Yes, even pigeons, the Rodney Dangerfield of birds, get respect and care at the Center.

This poor male box turtle was brought in with an amputated leg. They said he is recovering nicely and will be able to be released. If he were a she, she would not be releaseable since females needed both their legs in order to dig holes to lay their eggs.

These great high school kids come by to volunteer to feed the second season brood of baby squirrels. If case you were wondering, the girl on the right had her face painted with a spider and web.

Some of you may remember that it took a neighborhood effort to bring a very young baby squirrel up to Second Chance some weeks ago. Well, I'm happy to report that he/she survived. They had so many, though, they couldn't tell me which one it was, but given the date we brought the little one in, they could show us the cage where basically all the squirrels of that age were.

This could be our little squirrel-friend. God speed little doodle.