Thoughts about animal protection, Part 3

Thoughts about animal protection, Part 3

mit Dingo ca. 19841

For the past ten days, I participated in a kind of charity project. Every evening we reported the number of our steps to a fellow blogger, and he donated 0,10 € per 1.000 steps to a private animal rescue organisation that supports a former Hannoverian brood mare as well as stray dogs, cats and sheep. I donated 30,00 € too, because these small rescue organisations always are short of money. Needless to say, I was a horse lover myself, back when I was a teen.

When I was a teenager, I was crazy for horses. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me one, but I took riding lessons twice a week. I looked after horses and was responsible for their care. I spend a lot of my free time with horses. My parents didn’t object and let me do what I wanted, as far as my grades in school didn’t suffer from it. I remember many magic moments from this time. Humans and horses are so different, but they can become so close. It was a heady feeling, not only while I was riding. Horses are fascinating creatures.

But even as a teenager, I noticed the horses were treated differently. The privately-owned horses spent their time in generous stalls, where they could easily lie down and wallow.

The school horses, that were owned by the riding club, earned their living by teaching humans how to ride. They lived in narrow crates, which forced the bigger horses to stand all the time. And they always were tied to the wall near their head, what made even chasing flies difficult.

Every school horse was assigned two grooms, they had to take care of the horse six days a week. I was trusted to take care of two horses during those years, one was a brown Trakehner mare named “Marina”, the other a dapple grey gelding named “Cäsar”. It was checked if we took proper care of the horses, and we were trained well. This was important, because ailments or illnesses better are caught early. In this time I learned how to observe my pets and take note of every change.

And yet… While the privately-owned horses were given the time they needed to recover from an illness or injury, chronically ill or old school horses disappeared after a short time and were replaced by other horses.

Well. Who is going to tell the enthusiastic girls, who bustle around the horses happily, that their darling’s life ended at a butcher’s hook? Not the parents, that’s for sure. Maybe they suspect it, but they want to keep their child happy. Not the manager of the riding club, thats for sure, too. They want their paying members to stay. After a few years, we got a new riding instructor, who implied what was really happening. He said, the horse “was died”, instead of “it died”. He also was very open about the fact he liked the quality of horse meat, because “it’s low fat. They keep moving until the end”.

The horse next to me on the picture above is Dingo. Dingo is one of the few lucky school horses that had a life after this hard time. Someone bought him for his daughter. But this is not the rule.

Of course our relationship with horses is different, compared to dogs or cats. We are close to cats and dogs, because they live in our home. Horses often are assigned a task, dragging logs, sports or breeding. It doesn’t matter if this tasks are getting done or not, keeping a horse is expensive.

A creature, that willingly works for us its whole life, deserves to be cared for in the sunshine years. Who makes the decision to buy a horse, owes it to his companion to think ahead. There is a german saying: Thinking should be left to the horses, because they have a bigger head. But it is us humans that need to think this over and act responsibly.

Thoughts about animal protection, Part 2

Thoughts about animal protection, Part 2

To begin with: I am very aware of the fact, that some cats or dogs better should be kept alone. But many of them can be kept easily with fellows or even other species.

I never thought I would share my home with cats and dogs. Cats? Sure! Dogs? Maybe. But both?

A former colleague once showed me a photo of her two cats sitting happily on a garden wall, and mentioned her two dogs in the same breath. “And your cats and dogs get along?” I asked, a little bit confused.

She explained that her dogs were strays from Spain, and added “Especially the strays are well known for their good social behavior.”

I still thought this must be the exception that proves the rule, and forgot about it. Until we met Janet, and with her many people who are involved in animal protection. We learned, that many of those people kept both cats and dogs. They encouraged us to try introducing Janet to our cat-ruled household.

The first important test took place at the shelter. Janet (and later Sam) were braught to the shelter cats. Janet didn’t even bat an eye, so my husband asked: “Did she see the cats at all?” The head of the shelter confirmed that she indeed had seen the cats, and that we could go on and introduce her to our cats at home. Sam reacted more hectic, but not aggressive.

Then things got serious, and we took Janet home with us over night. We were told that we never were allowed to  leave cats and dog alone at the beginning – an understandable advice. If one of the furbabies – cats or dog – showed aggressive behavior, we should by no means tolerate that and make loud noises. And finally: We humans should be relaxed and calm! Very funny… we nearly peed our pants.

Well, Janet knew what to do from the start. She avoided making eye contact with the cats and was careful not to get in their way. Sammy and Jackie didn’t even hiss once. We made sure the cats kept some of their privileges: The couch in the living room and the bed are forbidden for the dogs. Very soon, things were back to normal. A new pack had been formed.

When Sam joined the pack, everything was more hectic, even though the cats had learned dog-speak from Janet by then. He wanted to play with the cats and barked at them. We made it clear to him from the beginning, that we would have none of that. And he quickly got it: A hissing cat is not a happy camper! But nothing really bad happened, no scratching and biting, and soon everything was quiet again.

When we want to take the cats to the vet, things get complicated. Both dogs become very agitated and try to get between us humans and the cat carrier, so putting the cats into the carrier is tricky. When we are back, the dogs wag their tails and insist on sniffing the cats. They are obviously happy that the pack is united again. Needless to say, the cats are not so happy about this commotion.

When we see other cats on our walks, or an unfamiliar cat crosses the terrace in front of the living room, the dogs start barking. They are very aware of the fact which cat is part of the pack, and which isn’t.

The velvet-pawed members of the household reacted very differently to the dogs. Sammy, the old cat, didn’t mind at all the dogs lying next to her. Jackie prefered to keep the dogs at a distance, and does so until today. Sam’s barking upsets her, even when he isn’t even near. But Jackie and Sam give each other headbutts, I am very impressed by Jackie’s bravery: Sam stands about 63 cm high at the shoulder. One thing is very clear: Jackie is the leader of the pack, who cares that she is also the smallest.

This may be a very small part of the mosaic, but we know many of those stories. The aggressive cross breed, who had to leave his family and found a new home with a bachelor and a cat. The Rottweiler female dog, that had worked as a guard dog for eight years and now lives with a single woman and two cats. We met a volunteer at the shelter who told us that she always took in cats and dogs from animal welfare. Maybe it took a few months for cats and dogs to get used to each other, but they always did finally.

My point: One prejudice against shelter animals is their alleged bad social behavior. And of course they may be influenced by their past. If there is a safe way to rule out behavior problems preemptively, i.g. how a dog gets along with cats, do so. Initial problems should not be overrated – if the humans stay calm, the animals often follow their lead. Good social behavior is frequently mentioned as a reason why people get a pup from a breeder. Not every breeder spends time and effort on exposing the puppies to enviromental stimuli. And a puppy has to be trained, too. Adding a furry member to the household always means work.

See also
Thoughts about animal protection, Part 1

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Thoughts about animal protection, Part 1

Thoughts about animal protection, Part 1

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Janet knows she is not allowed to jump on the sofa. This doesn’t keep her from trying, though!

Another issue that needs more than one blog entry. Animal protection became a very important part of our lives in the last years.

Janet introduced us to the world of animal shelters. Our cats came from families (Sammy was born at a local farm, Micky at my parents-in-law house). Most important: They came to us at a very young age. Sammy may have had a hard time following her birth, but this were weeks – not months or years.

The animal shelter that introduced us to Janet and Sam tries to help shelters or animal rescue organisations that bring dogs from Southern Europe to Germany. That’s how we became owners of romanian dogs.

In Germany “adopt don’t shop” became very popular. That’s a good thing. Animals suffer, too, and it is up to us humans to solve this, because we are the reason behind this suffering. But I think many people underestimate the problems that can follow adopting an animal from a shelter. This is the only reason I can think of why several dogs were returned to the shelter in the last weeks after having been succesfully adopted, because “things just didn’t work out”.

Shelter animals have been through hard times. Maybe they have been rehomed several times and don’t understand what is going on. They have every reason not to trust in humans. Maybe humans meant beating, or they just came and went. So the animal learned not to trust anyone but itself. Shelters often don’t have enough staff to really work on these issues. If they are lucky, they are supported by experienced volunteers, but this is not always the case.

Often the new owners expect shelter animals to adjust to their new enviroment from the very beginning, and maybe they expect thankfulness, too. But how is the animal supposed to know everything is better now? Changing your mind takes time, not only for humans, but for animals as well. Throwing in the towel after a few weeks is too early, I think. Many problems can be solved by the right setting and consequent education. But it takes time, patience and getting through setbacks. Every pet owner needs to work on this, owners of a shelter animal even more!

Of course there never are guarantees how things work out. But often shelter animals surprise everyone with their ability to love again. Janet, very shy and anxious at the beginning, changed completely in the first year with us and is very carefree and high-spirited now. Sam, even though he was brought to Germany when he was a puppy, needs a lot more time to leave the past behind. But he shows us he is willing to try.

It’s important to keep in mind that shelter animals often have lots of potential.  They are so worth every effort!

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