It's a Cold, Hard World Out There ...
But Some Homeless Animals Find Warmth
Two NBT writers - both recent adopters - take you step by step through the process of bringing a needy animal into your family.
by Darcey Dodd
photo by Mark Burns Lock Down: Three-year-old Hobo waits for a good home at the Anne Arundel SPCA.
Soft trotting sounds circle the Cammarata's cozy colonial home. In the dining room Mike and Kim gaze like doting parents at Maddie. The eager black and brown German shepherd, tail wagging, nuzzles Mike.
"I'm her special person," Mike, 31, says with a smile. Kim, 32, laughs. "I'm the meanie because I'm the one who makes her listen and cleans her ears," she says.
Eleven-month-old Maddie is adjusting nicely to her new home with the New Bay Times writer and husband.
Tattoos on stomach and legs signify Maddie's life before the Cammaratas adopted her, just days ago. "It's interesting rescuing an animal that has some age to her," says Mike. "They have this secret life which you'll never know about."
As a pup, Maddie was bred for show. But she wasn't suitable, and the breeder surrendered her to the Anne Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter last July - just about the time the young couple lost their 13 year-old dog, Schmoe, to heart disease.
Maddie, frightened and confused by losing her home, went into foster care shortly after.
By autumn, the Cammarata's began searching for a new companion and best friend. In November, they found Maddie.
"As soon as I saw her, I fell in love," says Mike.
Lost, Neglected, Abused
Not all animals are so lucky.
"We get a lot of abuse cases," says Joann Redelius of Glen Burnie. She's the full-time, unpaid savior at Heavens Gate Animal Rescue, one of dozens of Maryland organizations sprung up to rescue and shelter unwanted animals. "Some have been shot, stabbed, thrown out of car windows and set on fire," adds Redelius.
Many more are abandoned.
"The majority are unwanted," Redelius says. "People are giving their pets up. They're throwing them away."
Many times animals lose their homes when domestic situations have changed. Various elderly animals arrive when the owners have died or gone into nursing homes. Others come when domestic violence breaks up their household.
All types of pets - dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, ferrets, gerbils, pot-bellied pigs, iguanas - come to local shelters and rescue groups.
A full count is impossible. Last year alone, county animal control units in Anne Arundel and the Tri-County area of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties harbored more than 10,000 animals each.
"We take in animals from anyone who comes in our door," says John Mudd, supervisor of the Tri-County animal shelter.
Pounds, shelters and rescue groups all are overfilled, so not all homeless animals can be saved. As a result, 15 million healthy pets will be euthanized this year, according to the American Humane Association.
photo by Darcey Dodd It's a Dog's Life: In his 'previous life,' Bernie was tied out and set afire. Now, he lives the good life with Joann Redelius at her Heavens Gate Animal Rescue in Glen Burnie.
In from the Cold
Sometimes the death of one animal can save the life of another. That's what happened to the Cammaratas.
"It took us a while to get over Schmoe," says Mike. "But there was a hole in the house that needed to be filled."
"When you're looking out of your window and you see your neighbors walking their dogs, and you're envious," says Kim, "it's probably time to get another dog.
Beginning his search on the internet, Mike found a variety of options around the region. Groups also attract public interest with help from local PetSmarts - which feature adoption centers - and donated space in newspapers.
The Anne Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the area's largest private animal welfare and advocacy organization, runs an Annapolis animal shelter for up to 130 cats, 40 dogs and seven puppy litters at one time. The SPCA has had a hand in preventing cruelty and neglect by lobbying for the passage and enforcement of laws that provide for the humane treatment of animals.
Anne Arundel County Animal Control, not to be confused with the SPCA, has a shelter in Glen Burnie and is a county agency. Both the SPCA and Animal Control take in animals being given up for adoption. By law, all strays - animals considered lost and found - are sent to Animal Control.
Less formally organized and usually smaller are rescue groups like Joann Redelius's Heavens Gate. "I've encountered so many people who do this on their own," explains Redelius.
Farther south in St. Leonard, Animals Best Friend is one of many Chesapeake Country groups that rescue and adopt pets. "We all work from our houses," says Frank Paytas, president of Animals Best Friend.
Also in Calvert County, the Patuxent Animal Welfare Society, recently celebrating its two-year anniversary, takes credit for 300 adoptions in one year. "It's working very well," says Jean Radeackar, treasurer.
Heavens Gate Animal Rescue, incorporated for three years after nearly two decades of informal rescue work, uses foster homes and rents the basement of the Anne Arundel Veterinary Hospital in Brooklyn Park to house 20 animals at a time. "I never imagined it would get so large so quick," says Redelius. "But I have 30 great volunteers."
Mike Cammarata found Maddie through the Partnership for Animal Welfare, a regional group that, for the most part, zrescues abused, neglected and abandoned animals from area shelters. "I was leaning toward the rescue organizations because the dogs were all in foster homes," says Mike. "I figured they would be better socialized, better trained." He knew he was right when he saw Maddie's picture on the internet.
Foster homes provide safe havens between homes for animals like Maddie. Maddie's foster-mother was Sue Beatty, who is also the events coordinator for the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.
In three years, Beatty has harbored more than 15 dogs and cats. "It's rewarding to know you've helped the animals get a better chance," she says.
Even with supply outstripping demand, you cannot just waltz in and take an animal home no questions asked.
As the Cammaratas found out, adopting a pet takes more than picking out a pretty face. Future adopters must answer a detailed list of questions. The SPCA and rescue organizations want to know who you are, where you come from and what your home-life is like. Do you have kids? Pets? If you are a dog person, do you have a fenced yard? Some organizations may want to develop a dog-walking plan with you. Others ask for personal and veterinarian references.
Next, adopters must sign a legally binding contract promising that the animal will be an indoor pet, the adopter will provide adequate food and shelter and will return the pet to that rescue group or shelter if they are not able to retain custody.
Before and after the adoption, home visits may be required. "We will periodically stop by, unannounced, three times during the first year," says Paytas of Animals Best Friend.
Partnership for Animal Welfare paid the Cammarata home a visit before they could have Maddie. "We're getting to know the [possible] owner better," says public relations director Mike Courlander.
Adds Mike Cammarata, a patent lawyer: "They make sure you're for real." .
He's not kidding. "I decline people for various reasons," says Redelius. "We've had instances where people filled out an application and we found out they do not live [at that address]."
Rescue groups and shelters share a goal: to protect and adopt healthy animals to loving families. "We screen people so well before they adopt," says Redelius. "We match them up." Out of 1,000 Heavens Gate adoptions, only five animals have been returned. Four were because of a move or a new baby. One just didn't work out.
Groups look for similarities in the companions. Older animals, for example - like the 'resident kitty' Redelius placed at Sunshine Nursing Home - are calm and commonly fit well with elderly people.
Finding the perfect match is not a simple task. Mary Keeler of the Humane Society of Calvert County suggests doing some homework before you begin searching. Go to the library and read up on different animals to see which ones fit your lifestyle. Dalmatians are very active and require a lot of running space. That's why, after the movie 101 Dalmatians romanticized the breed, so many Dalmatians were surrendered. Because most rabbits do not like to be held and are physically delicate, they're not good pets for small children. Basic facts like these may steer you in the right direction.
The SPCA of Anne Arundel County has a wish list for families looking for the right animal. The Calvert County Humane Society - which, according to incoming director Mary Keeler, "serves people who own or want pets" - provides referral information to new citizens of the county. You can call them for little problems as well as big, such as how to modify the behavior of a cat that scratches.
The screening helps prevent cruelty and neglect. "All rules," says Lou Sullivan Carter, president of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, "are for the better of the animals."
photos by Mark Burns and Darcey Dodd. Doing Your Homework: A young couple, above, tries to decide which puppies to adopt at the SPCA; At right, Darcey Dodd's kittens, Cleopatra and Caesar, adopted from Heavens Gate.
The Lucky Ones
Meeting all the requirements, the Cammaratas hurried to the next step: meeting the dog who'd won Mike's heart.
Almost immediately, Maddie warmed up to Mike. "She'd always preferred women," says Beatty, "but she went right to him."
Beatty watched carefully as the couple interacted comfortably with the dog.
Maddie had previously been housebroken and put through some obedience training. It showed. "You can tell by the way she behaves that someone took good care of her," says Kim. "She obviously was not abused or neglected."
Maddie, according to her foster-mother, was an "owner give-up."
Her story is not as sad as some.
Last month a cat named Jessie came to the Heavens Gate Animal Rescue with a recently crushed leg. A construction worker found her on his Jessup job site and headed to the rescue group. It looked like her leg would have to be amputated, but Heavens Gate and veterinarians Greg Herbert and Stanley Schultz weren't giving up. After surgery, Jessie is recovering and looking for a new home.
Redelius made one abuse victim her own. Her mixed-chow, Bernie, came to Heavens Gate at only six weeks old after he was found set on fire and tied to a wire fence. The poor dog was near death. Veterinarian Herbert and Schultz saved Bernie's life. Though Bernie has some severe scarring, he is living happily with Redelius.
"The injured animals do well after they recuperate and are shown not all people are bad," says Redelius.
Babies need special care. "When we get newborns without the mommas, our foster care families take them in and bottle-feed them until they're nine weeks old," she says. "You go through everything with them and then have to give them up."
Rehabilitation for the abused begins with volunteers who comfort and care for them until they're adopted. If that's not enough, many groups seek qualified trainers to turn them around.
"We do not just house them," says Radeackar, who has made four dogs and a cat, all rescued, part of her immediate family. "We want to train or socialize them."
Their experience is not unique. Animals Best Friend's Paytas tells about "a Rottweiler that was starved and beaten. You couldn't get close to him. Now he's 110 pounds and listens."
photos by Darcey Dodd Best Friend: Veterinarian Greg Herbert and his Heavens Gate patients Jessie, at left, and Otis.
Reducing the Unlucky
photos by Mark Burns Jail Bird: Too many pets need homes, and without adoptive parents, SPCA's kitten Peanut won't get sprung from his cage.
Such success stories are few and far between.
"There comes a time when we have to make hard decisions," says Sullivan Carter of SPCA. Choosing which go to Animal Control to be euthanized "is a very hard job."
When all of the shelters are full, such decisions must be made. Mixed-breed and older animals are not as wanted as the pure-bred and young. Those that suffer from illness or severe behavioral problems are usually deemed not adoptable.
Like Animals Best Friend, most rescue groups will only euthanize in extreme situations. "We take them to the shelter when they need to be euthanized," says Paytas. Then "we do not just leave them there. We stay with the animal until it is euthanized."
"The only time we euthanize is when they are suffering," agrees Redelius.
Still, just too many pets need homes. "The problem is that we need the animals to be spayed or neutered," explains Paytas. "We'll always have this problem until spaying/neutering is low-cost and there's more education."
In Calvert County, like most others, pets are not adopted without being spayed or neutered. "All of the humane organizations in the area got together and agreed that all animals should be spayed or neutered before they're adopted," says Paytas.
Some organizations, among them the Humane Society of Calvert County, offer affordable spay/neuter services for low-income families. Many hold low-price clinics. The SPCA of Anne Arundel County, with veterinarian volunteers, recently offered $5 neutering for 175 male felines.
"There are a lot of good pet owners who cannot afford spay/neuter so we try to offer low cost," concurs Redelius. So Heaven's Gate Animal Rescue offered a similar clinic, called Neuterathon '98.
Nearly all shelters and rescue groups educate as well as adopt. The Patuxent Animal Welfare Society sponsors a Kindness Club at Southern Middle School to teach children how to care for animals. The Calvert Humane Society holds a similar one-week humane education camp, called the Summer Kindness Camp, every year at Sunderland Elementary.
Typically, when you choose a pet you'd like to take home, it will have been spayed or neutered, tested for illness and given up-to-date shots. That, explained Paytas, of Animals Best Friend, is why "people are better off getting an animal from a shelter or rescue than free or from a pet shop. You really don't know what you're getting from them."
Having followed all the rules, the Cammaratas were approved to take Maddie home.
Love for Sale
As non-profits, the shelter and rescue organizations must be clever to keep afloat. The basic methods are bake sales, yard sales and flea markets, but fund-raisers get much more whimsical and elaborate. Animals Best Friend, like Heavens Gate Animal Rescue, take Easter Bunny and Santa Claus photos.
The SPCA of Anne Arundel County's largest fund-raiser is the annual Walk for Animals at Quiet Waters Park. They solicit money by mail and accept tax-deductible vehicle donations. Their dance gala, Puttin' on the Dog, was held last month at the Marriott Waterfront in Annapolis.
All welcome donations from the public, and some organizations - like the Calvert Humane Society - receive support from the United Way.
Heaven's Gate Animal Rescue has begun saving for a 'no kill' farm - a place, says Redelius, "where people can leave their pets and know they will be happy forever" - but most of their profit is spent on food, kitty litter and $2,000 a month in medical treatment.
Adoption fees help house homeless animals and pay for the cost of spaying or neutering. The SPCA of Anne Arundel County charges from $3 for a gerbil or mouse to $55 for purebred dogs. The Rabbit Rescue asks $25 for male bunnies and $30 for females. The $125 the Cammaratas paid for Maddie included a giant travel and quiet crate.
When the Cammaratas drove away with Maddie, all the people who had helped with her rescue and adoption earned their greatest reward.
"I work very hard to make good matches," says Beatty, "and this was the best match. This was the perfect home."
Editor's note: Families wishing to adopt are encouraged to get ready during the holiday season. For the animals' safety, many organizations process and finalize adoptions this month but do not permit you to take your new friend home until after Christmas.
Speaking for Animal Rights
Local animal welfare groups are not just adopting pets to families. They're looking out for animals' rights.
In Anne Arundel County, the SPCA has scored at least three highly visible victories in recent years.
During the fall of 1996, the SPCA triumphantly protested against deer bow-hunting at Sandy Point State Park. Since then, they've prevented bow-hunting at that park. What's more, the SPCA won a voice on the state wildlife advisory commission, a nine-member committee that recommends policies to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources - which has traditionally spoken for the interests of Maryland hunters. Dr. Joseph Lamp, volunteer and vice president of the SPCA, was appointed by Gov. Parris Glendening as the only animal welfare advocate to sit on a wildlife advisory commission.
"We had no say until [Lamp] went in and said bow-hunting is inhumane," says Sullivan Carter. "We have a right to some input. Wildlife belongs to all of us."
In a widely distributed letter to the editor (printed by New Bay Times), the SPCA urged all animal lovers to support Gov. Glendening, the only governor in the United States to appoint an animal welfare advocate to a state wildlife advisory commission, in the elections.
Additionally, they succeeded in a three-year campaign for new animal control regulations to reduce the number of dogs and cats being euthanized in the county. With help from County Executive John Gary and the SPCA members' many phone calls and letters, Animal Control is now able to identify stray cats through cat licenses. Owners who don't neuter their animals pay significantly higher license fees.
They've also fought to tighten animal cruelty laws and to end the selling of spayed/neutered animals to testing laboratories.
In Calvert County, The Calvert Animal Welfare League, a nonprofit volunteer organization, is fighting just as fiercely to build the county its own $1 million animal shelter and educational center.
The Tri-County shelter now provides services to Calvert as well as to Charles and St. Mary's counties.
The Calvert Animal Welfare League would build its shelter with private donations and operate it with annual funding under contract with Calvert County for the same amount paid to Tri-County.
"All we're trying to do is help animals and save taxpayers money," said Crane.
Through its campaign, the League has established itself as a power in the county.
The League decided the County's five commissioners, its top elected officials, had sabotaged the shelter. To air the issue publicly, the League sent a questionnaire to each Calvert County Commissioner candidate. Nine of 12 responded, six saying they favored the new shelter. Three of those six were eventually elected.
Meanwhile, another Calvert County animal organization, the Calvert Humane Society, has been pressing the county commissioners to expand the county's animal laws. "We are trying to get the laws augmented and defined," says Mary Keeler, who notes that Maryland's animal laws are basic. "The state expects [the county] to augment them."
The Humane Society will appeal to the commissioners early next year. "We need our own laws," insists Keeler.
Santa Loves Good Little Dogs and Cats
Photos with Santa help animal shelters and rescue organizations fund their services. Here's where and when your pet can sit on Santa's lap to benefit -
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VolumeVI Number 48
December 3-9, 1998
New Bay Times
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