A Fish Tale -or- The REALLY Ugly Side of Rescue

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Rescues come in all sizes and shapes. Some make the news and some don’t. Some do, because of the groups involved, or perhaps because of the people or animals who did or didn’t survive it. Some rescues, for various reasons, people keep quiet about. Sometimes because there are no survivors and sometimes for reasons hard to explain or understand. This is the story of how I came to be the rescuer of three Siamese Fighting Fish, more commonly known as ‘betas.

It was probably two and a half years ago that Nancy and I went with a local veterinarian and county sheriffs to the scene of an elderly woman’s passing. She had been a hoarder, mostly of garbage and animals, and had previously been shamed by the media for her care (or the lack of it) of her animals. Nothing was actually done to improve the situation, but the newspaper’s harsh and critical words had stung. Therefore when a major medical condition occurred which totally prevented her from getting up from her bed, she did not lift the phone to ask anyone for help with her animals. She let them die. And within a few days, she died also.

The body was removed from the house and the living conditions were noted by the authorities. A local veterinarian was contacted regarding deceased animals on the property. Thus it was that our little group of four, the veterinarian, Nancy, a neighbor lady, and myself, were met by county sheriffs who told us there were multiple dead dogs in several of the smaller buildings on the property. One sheriff said he had dumped dog food in some of the pens in the dark the night before in hopes there were animals left alive to eat it, but from the look on his face, we knew he feared the worst. Then they stayed with their vehicles, talking quietly. I didn’t hold this against them. I knew they felt helpless. When a tragedy occurs involving people, they know what to do. They call for back up, make arrests, call the ambulance or the coroner and leave. When the victims are animals and there is no one to arrest, the feeling of helplessness must be overwhelming. This was most likely something their training had not prepared them for.

1001652smWe didn’t know what to expect as we walked through the few remaining piles of snow and across the garbage strewn property to the first small shed. We had assumed there would be survivors, but no barks or whines greeted us. The first small shed dashed our hopes and the reality of the situation hit us. There were several dead Chihuahuas and/or Pomeranians lying in a small filthy wooden pen inside the shed. Only one was still alive, barely, but alive. His grey filmy eyes appeared to be blind. Another shed harbored several more small dead bodies. We took pictures for documentation, proof that such atrocities do happen, even in our little county, and put the bodies in garbage bags and laid them to the side of the driveway. More small dead dogs lay in the barn in a large stall converted into a dog pen. No food, no water, no sign of life. Only small furry bodies, who, the vet assured us, had not actually starved to death but had died first from lack of water. She meant to help us feel better, I think, to know their suffered had been days and not weeks, but the mental picture of her crawling around on her hands and knees in the stall pulling dead dogs out of dog houses and out of dark corners and stuffing them into garbage bags is not one I will ever forget.

hoard5smThere were survivors outside the barn. Goats and ponies, able to eat snow for water, stood and watched us as we walked through the tuffs of rabbit fur and chicken feathers of others who had not survived, to pat them and assure them that help would come for them. We checked every shed, every old camper, every dog crate, every dog house, determined to document the dead, but silently praying to find survivors. All we found were a few ancient remains of those who had died locked away in dog crates and had apparently been long forgotten. Then we walked towards the house.

A cat greeted us on the porch. The sheriffs looked at us with pity in their eyes. We went inside. From the home owner’s perspective, it may have been home sweet home. From my perspective it was a garbage dump.

1001665smThe garbage, which was everywhere, was chest high on me, and I am of average height. Piles of garbage to the point that there was but one trail leading through the middle. At first we didn’t see the dogs, we were so caught up in the horror of the filth and moldy food and cereal boxes and piles and piles of meaningless trash. Then our minds adjusted to the task at hand and we began our search. We found two dogs, one in an airline crate stuck between piles of trash and the other one in a Rubbermaid tub with an oven rack over the top, barely visible within the enormous collection of trash. They were alive!

annie1smWe (single file in the trail between rooms) were now hopeful. If the two dogs in the living room had survived, perhaps there were more. We searched under beds and in closets. We shoved aside piles and bags in desperation, hoping against hope to find signs of life, but more than anything we were determined not to leave anything still living to die there. We found nothing. We congregated in the narrow trail in the kitchen to compare notes. The veterinarian glanced quickly through the cupboards, checked the refrigerator and quickly slammed the door shut as disgusting smells drifted out. Then she opened the oven door. A black swarm of flies came buzzing up from off the (rotten) baked chicken carcass into her face in their mad dash to freedom and she screamed. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then. It was like being in a real life ‘house of horrors’.

BLACK CAT-9780aWe agreed there was no place we hadn’t searched and that it was time to go. We moved single file to the front door and turned and looked back, wanting to escape the nightmare, yet hesitant to leave, eyes searching for some unnoticed area we might have missed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of movement. A feeling of panic overwhelmed me as I tried to find it again. What had I seen? What poor creature had we missed? Then I saw it again. Nearly buried among the piles of filth and clutter on the kitchen counter were three small square fish bowls, green with slime and algae, each containing a single, barely visible, Beta. Renewed with hope after nearly missing the fish, we went back through all the rooms again, hoping against all odds to find more survivors. We found nothing more.

hoard14We put the beta bowls in a bucket, the cat in a crate, and the three living dogs in other crates and into my pickup. The old blind dog went directly to the vet clinic, and, sadly, had to be euthanized. The cat and the other two dogs went to the Sanctuary, where they were eventually adopted into good homes. Body bags containing the remains of 27 little dogs went in the back of my pickup and I took their remains to Spokane Humane Society for cremation.

I took the fish home. Betas (also known as Siamese Fighting Fish) do not care for company and cannot be kept together. So I gathered up three gallon jars and put aquarium rocks and water in them and introduced the fish to their new homes on my kitchen counter. One was yellow, delicate looking with long, lovely, fan-like fins and tail. One was downright scary looking, having apparently gotten the worst of it in a fight, or perhaps all-out war? His fins and tail were missing and all that remained were the long spikey lines the fins had been connected to. We named him ‘Spike’ and expected him to die any minute.

He surprised us by filling out the areas between the spikes with new fin tissue. He never looked quite normal, but was a drastic improvement considering how frightening he looked when he first came to live with us. Whether or not they appreciated my efforts I cannot say, but I assumed they must have found their clean new residences pleasing. Spike and the yellow beta lived in their pickle jar fish tanks for a year before passing on, within a week of each other, to that great river in the sky. The third, a beautiful blue beta with long graceful fins, resided in his fish bowl with live plants and snails for company for another year and a half before he died.

And so my fish tale has ended. While it may not have been the usual rescue story, and in truth may have been downright depressing, rescue does come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes where you least expect it. That death can come to those who least deserve it and that life can sometimes survive in the most disgusting of conditions may not be the sort of stuff fairy tales are made of, but are facts of life none the less. Never turn a blind eye, thinking someone else must be taking care of it because maybe they aren’t.

Remember that hoarders are human too, and that hatred, disgust, and negative media attention seldom converts them to a different way of thinking. Often, as in this case, it only serves to alienate them and make them hide the problem better. It is said one catches more flies with honey than vinegar. A kind word and a helping hand are not always appreciated, but sometimes they can go a lot farther than you’d think. Regardless of how you choose to handle a situation you don’t approve of, remember that when wee ones are involved who cannot speak for themselves, that your voice in standing up for them may be their only chance, their last chance. Don’t let them down.

***Linda**

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Iceman Passes…

iceman1At 11:10 p.m. on September 22nd 2014 Iceman crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Perhaps as you are reading this, he is, even now, chasing tennis balls in God’s backyard, once again free of arthritis and ailments. The Alaskans among us suspect when huskies die that their souls and voices blend into the Northern Lights, racing across the skies, twisting and turning in perfect harmony disguised in colors of unimaginable beauty as they look down on the lands their ancestors once roamed.

I had gone to the store, and upon my return, he did not come to greet me. He had curled up in his dog house by the backdoor and made no attempt to get up when I tried to coax him out.  Being a two piece plastic dog house, I unsnapped the top and lifted it off. He still made no effort to get up, but was aware of my presence. So I drug the bottom half, with him in it, into the kitchen. Later, I pulled it to the living room beside the couch where he normally spent his evenings. Occasionally he would raise his head and whimper and I’d pat his head to reassure him I was still there for him. The other dogs kept a close, but silent, watch.  At 11:10 he passed peacefully, surrounded by those who had cared for him during the last month of his life.

Iceman as he first came to us. An elderly, emaciated dog with 2 large tumors. Someone obviously gave up on him just because he got old...

Iceman as he first came to us. An elderly, emaciated dog with 2 large tumors who appears to have been neglected for a very long time.

I had been the transporter, assigned to bring the latest ‘drop off’ back to the Sanctuary after his surgery to remove 2 large tumors from his elderly, emaciated body.  I just couldn’t do it. Elderly dogs need extra TLC and so my husband and I brought him to our house instead. In the short while he was with us, he had 4 good meals a day and was gaining weight. The other dogs accepted him immediately. He appeared a little stronger each day, wandering around our fenced backyard, admiring the chickens and watching as we worked in the garden or went in and out the garage. In the late evenings, he came in the house with the other dogs and slept on the living room floor as I watched TV or checked email.  At bedtime (last potty call for the dogs) he went back outside to his dog house by the back door. His thick husky coat preferred the cool night air.

It was hard to see him pass, but knowing that if some caring individual had not picked up the elderly stray and brought him to the Sanctuary that he would have starved to death unnoticed in a ditch somewhere, instead of in my living room, made it easier. Rest in peace Iceman. For a short while, you were loved.

***LINDA**

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Lily’s Miracle

Three tiny hungry kittens were caught this summer in an alley in Colville in a live trap that two CVAS volunteers had set.  One of the volunteers who helped trap the kittens agreed to foster the kittens.  Two were typical little kittens.  The other one was special.  She appeared to be all white, but on further inspection, she was white with a faintly peach-colored tail and ears.  What was REALLY special was her pitiful little face.  While she had one beautiful blue eye, where the other eye should have been was only an empty socket. Pink folds of tissue filled the area where an eye should have been.  It did not appear to have been lost to trauma or infection, it just wasn’t there!  She also appeared to be deaf.  This special kitten came to be known as Lily.

Born without her right eye and nearly completely deaf, this little dynamo goes about her life as if nothing at all was unusual about that!

Born without her right eye and nearly completely deaf, this little dynamo goes about her life as if nothing at all was unusual about that!

After a couple of weeks of good food and love, the foster mom turned Lily over to another foster mom…me.  Because we already have blind cats and deaf dogs, I thought we might be the perfect home for a kitten with special needs.  However, her sparkling personality and ‘go getter’ attitude soon helped us see that she could live a fairly normal life and should be adoptable.  We also discovered that while Lily was very hard of hearing, she was NOT totally deaf.

She was a lover, her purr could be heard in the next room.  She was a wild child, cavorting across the kitchen floor in a sideways stance with arched back and fur standing on end as she attacked catnip mice and other fuzzy toys.  She made the life of our other foster cat miserable as she chased his twitching tail and pounced on him while he tried to eat his dinner.  She bounced across the floor on her hind legs as she tried frantically to catch our dog’s wagging tail as it patiently tried to escape her sharp little teeth and claws.  Lily was quite a kitten.  She had no idea she was supposed to be disabled.

So we told ourselves that she would be available for adoption after she was spayed at the next Stevens County Cat Care clinic in September.  I also asked our lead vet, Dr. Tami, if she would examine the empty eye socket and, if needed, surgically repair the empty eye socket so that debris or other matter would not get into it and cause further problems.

The September 14th Stevens County Cat Care clinic was set up at the American Legion Hall in Kettle Falls with 5 veterinarians, one vet tech and 30 volunteers working hard all day to spay/neuter 156 cats.  Lily had forgotten there was a world outside of our kitchen and the activity at the clinic frightened her.  She hid at the back of her crate and didn’t make a sound.  When it was her turn, she was anesthetized and both her tummy and half her face were shaved and scrubbed for surgery.

Dr. Tami discovered, and removed, a very tiny useless eye behind the folds of pink flesh at the back of the eye socket.  She also spayed Lily, assuring that the cycle has been broken.  When this lucky girl grows up, she will never have kittens born in an alley the way she was, to have to be rescued by Sanctuary volunteers.

The day after surgery, she was pouncing on toy mice and chasing dog's tails as if nothing had happened.

The day after surgery, she was pouncing on toy mice and chasing dog’s tails as if nothing had happened.

Lily is also lucky for a number of other reasons.  Because both her foster moms help regularly at the spay/neuter clinics, she was spayed for free.  Because Dr. Tami is a compassionate woman, she did not charge for the surgery to repair the eye socket.  And because there were so many volunteers helping at the clinic that day, it was purr-fectly natural that one of them fell in love with Lily and asked to adopt her when she recovers from her surgeries!

Lily’s story was written and shared to show that, not only can many animals with disabilities still lead pretty normal lives, but that a lot of compassionate people work together to make miracles happen.  Sometimes it may seem that the Sanctuary needs a lot of money to keep the miracles happening, but sometimes miracles can be coordinated into happening for free.  Thank you Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary and Stevens County Cat Care volunteers and thank you Dr. Tami.

And BTW, the day after her surgery, Lily is already back to chasing dog’s wagging tails and attacking catnip mice.  In a few days when the stitches are removed from the ‘eyeless eye’ Lily will be ready to go to her new home where she has been promised that for her own safety, she will be an indoor kitty and that she will get to sleep on her new mommy’s bed every night. Yep, one lucky kitty.

***LINDA***

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Patrick’s Story

What a Foster Home Meant to One Special Kitty

Patrick was a scrawny gray tabby cat who taught me the true meaning of being a foster parent, someone who can give a cat, dog or any animal, the feeling of having a family and being loved, and to prepare them socially for a new forever home. This experience also enabled me to see first hand how intuitive cats are and what love and compassion other cats can have for each other.

Patrick originally was brought to the shelter late one night in the winter of 2012, as a stray who was sick and needed help. He was taken to the veterinarian the next day and was diagnosed as having renal failure most likely due to some sort of poisoning, possibly antifreeze. No one knew just what his outcome for survival was going to be – weeks or maybe months. We were told to give him subcutaneous fluids everyday without fail and to keep him on a specialized renal diet, it was then a waiting game to see how he would do.

Patrick getting ready for his daily subcutaneous fluids, what a good kitty

Patrick getting ready for his daily subcutaneous fluids, what a good kitty

A week later the shelter manager was scheduled to go on a much needed vacation and even though volunteers would constantly be in and out caring for the cats and dogs, we worried about Patrick. Would symptoms indicating that his condition was worsening be recognized?
It was decided that he had to be watched a little more closely so he would have to be fostered by someone. I raised my hand to take on this responsibility, after all it was only for a week! So Patrick was going on vacation also.

Patrick goes on "vacation" to Pat's house

Patrick goes on “vacation” to Pat’s house

A special area was set up in our store room – all heated and cozy – in the garage, right next to the room where all 5 of our orange barn cats live. These are very loving friendly cats when they are not out terrorizing and catching the gophers, ground squirrels, pack rats and moles that live in our pastures. These cats are pure killers of the rodent world. I’m pretty sure that if my husband and I were not as big as we are, we would also be on their dinner plate.

Pat giving Patrick his daily fluids. He always enjoyed this opportunity to cuddle.

Pat giving Patrick his daily fluids. He always enjoyed this opportunity to cuddle.

For the first few days Patrick was fine, took the administration of his fluids with no trouble and seemed happy. Then on day 3 he wanted to be with the other cats. He would waddle over to the door ( his back legs were weak and he walked like he had a full diaper). A little orange paw would sweep under the door as if beckoning to him. This sent shivers down my spine as these cats were known for chasing off our neighbor’s Rottie and at times would try and tear each other apart. The thought of turning Patrick loose in their room was frightening. Since the barn cats are locked up at night I know he could hear their battles.

Meet the 5 assassins: Scooter, Jack, Jill, Jerry and Willie.

Scooter

Scooter

Jack

Jack

Jill

Jill

Jerry

Jerry

Willie

Willie

These 5 killers turned out to be the reason Patrick lived for 2 years and 5 months longer than was ever thought possible.

From the day he first waddled into their domain his life changed. Instead of threatening and attacking him, they welcomed him. They seemed to intuitively understand that Patrick was different and that he could not do the things that they could do, perhaps they sensed that he needed protecting and nurturing. From that day on Patrick was treated like a prince by the 5 assassins.

patrick10He slept in any bed he wanted and he never slept alone as Willie was always with him at night. If he went outdoors he was always accompanied by one of the 5 – generally Willie. Patrick could not hunt or climb trees and spent most of his time under the Lilac Bushes.

 One of Patrick's favorite places to lay.

One of Patrick’s favorite places to lay.

Patrick being escorted on walks...

Patrick being escorted on walks…

...and up and down the stairs

…and up and down the stairs

During all this time Patrick was once again part of a family, not just a human family but a family of his own kind. It made me realize that not just we humans can foster and make a sad life happier but given the chance, animals can have just as strong an impact on making life better for a Being in need. Patrick gained weight and was active (as active as he could be with his weak back legs). He was truly interested and curious by everything around him and he enjoyed life with the 5 assassins. Even though he could not hunt himself, miraculously a small dead rodent would appear at his feet. He would make a beeline with it to his room in hopes I would not see it.

patrick14Unfortunately, 2 months ago in June, Patrick started to lose ground. Fluids were again started along with a special diet but this time it was just not to be.

His friends would keep him company during the day in the “ Cat Room”, urge him to take walks outside and allowed him to eat out of any bowl he wanted. At night he would be curled up with at least two orange cats.

Patrick passed away peacefully on July 12, 2014. This was the first time we had ever fostered an animal. It was only supposed to be for a week but turned out to be for 2 years and 5 months.

Fostering for us did not turn out to be the happy time socializing a cat or dog in order to help them transition into a new home. We elected instead to foster him for whatever time he had left, we knew if he were to go back to the shelter he would not be a cat that would be adopted. What Patrick and our own barn cats taught us was amazing. We witnessed a kindness that I never knew our cats were capable of.

I know Patrick is missed as the purple bed by the heater remains empty at night.

patrick15This is how we will remember our first foster kitty, happily sitting in the sun.

Fostering a special needs animal can be sad but in the end you realize what you were able to add to the life of one who may have died without feeling the love and care so deserved.

Pat Lowe,
Volunteer
Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary

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