Big Cat Public Safety Act Passed by House of Representatives

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we are thrilled that the Big Cat Public Safety Act was approved by the House of Representatives on December 3 and we look forward to tracking its progress through the Senate.

Personally, I believe this is one of the most important pieces of animal welfare legislation. It will prohibit the possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species by individuals who are not licensed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Many people became aware of the abuse big cats experience because of the popular Netflix series Tiger King. Thankfully, our society and our leaders are standing up to put an end to the trade and exploitation of big cats in our country.

Please take a moment to contact your senators and let them know how you feel about the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can also track the progress of the legislation to find out when it will be considered by the Senate. Together, we can stand up for big cats everywhere.

Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide Rescue Flight Behind the Scenes – Next Rescues

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

August 2020 was one for the record books at SPCA International. After months of shutdowns, contingency plans and disappointment, we were finally able to deliver a plane full of dogs and cats from Iraq to the U.S. All of the animals on that flight had been rescued and adopted by servicemen and women in the Middle East, but they became stranded in Iraq because of COVID-19.

The government offices, airlines and airports that we had always relied on to accomplish our work all closed down with little to no notice. So, after 5 months of uncertainty, this rescue effort was absolutely unprecedented in terms of size and the amount of coordination it required. In order to receive approval for our aircraft to enter the US, we had to coordinate with the FAA, customs, CDC, and USDA.

There were many late nights, early mornings and a very big collective sigh of relief when the plane touched down at JFK. I am extremely proud of our team for pulling it off, and thanks to them, these dogs and cats are now safe and happy in their soldiers’ homes in the U.S.

We are thrilled to be hearing from the soldiers who have been happily reunited with their dogs and cats. They will be forever grateful for the support of the many people who helped rescue their pets.

Even as this flight landed successfully, in the back of my mind, I was worrying about new animals coming into our care. Soldiers are still stationed around the world, despite COVID-19, and many still rescue animals from terrible living situations. Just days after the special rescue flight, more dogs and cats were already in our team’s care in Iraq. I wondered if we would have to make them wait months until another special flight could be organized and filled. Since the start of the pandemic, I was adamant that we would not make the decision to close our program unless we had absolutely no other choice.

Thankfully, my worries were short-lived. I am excited to announce that we have found a solution with a commercial airline that will be able to transport our animals safely. We are very quickly learning the new process and adapting to get the animals in our care, home to their owners as soon as possible.

We recently completed the first flights, and I am so relieved that all went smoothly. This new development means dogs and cats will be rescued in a matter of weeks instead of many months, allowing the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program to resume at our normal pace of operations. Thank you to everyone who supports the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program. Thanks to you, animals rescued by soldiers serving overseas will continue to be reunited with the military men and women who love them.

They’ll live on in our hearts and memories

With tremendous sadness and a heavy heart, we must share that seven puppies in the Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program recently contracted Parvovirus and passed away.  

Bucky, Kobane, Dexter, Sully, Barrett, Scout and Bandit will be missed tremendously. Each of these pups will forever be in our hearts and memories.

In developing countries, diseases like Distemper and Parvovirus are rampant. Here in North America, dogs are typically vaccinated as soon as they are old enough and pet parents often take precautions of keeping young pups away from public areas that could harbor these diseases. Unfortunately, conditions in the Middle East don’t lend themselves to these kinds of precautions.

Typically, SPCA International only accepts puppies to our Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide program that are old enough to be vaccinated, but we accepted several young pups into our care as soldiers quickly evacuated Syria. Many soldiers had been given just several hours’ notice and had no other options for their pets. In that time of urgency, we had a difficult decision: stick to our protocols and deny these puppies or accept them knowing the risk was still better than their chances if they were left behind.

You’ll likely remember Sergeant Virginia and her sweet pup Bucky. Orders had come down from base commanders to kill all dogs on base, so we quickly brought Bucky into our care. Another dog, named Kobani, was picked up from a soldier evacuating on short notice. We’re not sure where these pups contracted Parvovirus, but our team did everything they could to save them. 

All of these pups fought bravely, but there is no cure for Parvovirus[1]. They were quarantined and treated by the best local vet in Iraq. Our team provided intravenous fluids and antibiotics to support these pups’ immune systems, but in the end, their tiny bodies could no longer fight the disease. We take comfort in knowing they had the best treatment possible and were surrounded by kindness until the very end.

Everyone knew there was a health risk when we brought these young pups into our care, but it was a risk we had to take. Here at SPCA International, our hearts are heavy with grief for these dogs and the soldiers who loved them.

Even in her grief, one soldier reached out on behalf of her fellow soldiers to share this kind message in the wake of Dexter’s passing:  

“Thank you for doing everything you could. We all really appreciate it more than you know. I am so heartbroken right now but so thankful that you all loved him and made his last few days as easy as possible and filled with love. We are so grateful for the work you do and none of it goes unnoticed. We would like to stay in touch with you and help out with donations or whatever is needed to save other animals.” -U.S. Army Specialist Abigail Winters

Bucky, Kobane, Dexter, Sully, Barrett, Scout and Bandit will continue to inspire us to do our very best to prevent suffering and give more animals a chance to live a good life in this often cruel, senseless and challenging world. We are actively reviewing protocols to protect animals from this terrible disease in the future.

[1] No specific drug is available that will kill the virus in infected dogs, and treatment is intended to support the dog’s body systems until the dog’s immune system can fight off the viral infection…When a dog develops parvo it may die despite aggressive treatment. Learn more from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Lemonade “Give-Back” Totals $37,157.60!

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Lemonade is a truly amazing company that all of us at SPCA International are honored to partner with. We are thrilled to be one of the organizations their customers choose to support through the innovative “give-back” program.

Lemonade is a home and renters insurance company that has built social good into their business model. They charge customers a flat fee and reserve the rest of customers’ premiums to pay claims. If there is any money left over at the end of the year. Guess what? That money goes to the customer’s charity of choice as a “give-back” donation.

I am beyond thrilled and so very humbled that many people chose to donate their unused premium to SPCA International this year. The “give-back” amount totals $37,157.60 and is more than we ever imagined! I am absolutely blown away by this generosity on behalf of the company and their customers.

 This donation will allow SPCA International to;

  • Rescue more U.S. soldiers’ battle buddies and reunite them with their heroes at home!
  • Fight the Dog Meat Trade through targeted grants to rescue organizations in China and South Korea working to end this cruel practice.
  • Combat cruelty and violence toward dogs and cats in Spain, Romania, and Tanzania through financial grants to organizations working in challenging communities.
  • Promote spay and neuter programs at U.S. consulates and embassies around the world.

We have thoroughly enjoyed working with Lemonade’s whole team since the start of this project. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to EVERYONE involved with Lemonade. From the visionary founders to the customers who selected SPCA International for their “give-back” donation, our work wouldn’t be possible without incredible people like you.

Consulate Cats: A Spay and Neuter Success

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I just return­­ed from working in Iraq on an SPCA International spay and neuter event that was a wonderful example of proactive animal population control. 

At a U.S. consulate, diplomats, contractors, and soldiers have constant feline companions. Despite tall walls, cats continue to find their way inside and make the consulate their home. Several months ago, officials asked SPCA International to help contain the cat population in a humane and effective way.

Our SPCA International team immediately got to work with consulate representatives to set up initial and ongoing procedures to ensure the cats at the consulate remain healthy, are sterilized, and don’t become a nuisance to the people working there.

The initial event was a great success. Two dedicated veterinarians, Dr. Hannah from Canada and Dr. Hemin from Iraq worked together with three local vet techs and our team of three SPCA International staff members to treat 22 cats. Several of the cats were already spayed or neutered, so we gave them vaccination boosters to keep them healthy.

The rest of the cats were spayed or neutered and given time to recover before being released. By sterilizing these cats, thousands of future births have been prevented, which means the consulate will avoid an unmanageable cat population exposed to illnesses and other environmental threats.

I also had the pleasure of meeting a contractor who adopted one of the consulate cats. He is an army veteran who has been stationed away from his family for most deployments and contracts. He shared that his cat, Ginger, had been the bright spot during his time in Iraq, always waiting for him when he got home from work. His 11-year-old daughter in the U.S. has been so excited to meet her new cat that she bought a bed and toys weeks ahead of time.

I was honored to accompany Ginger the cat home to the U.S. where she met her new family and will have the pampered life she deserves while she waits for her Dad to finish out his contract.

SPCA International helped the consulate put a long-term plan in place to maintain the size and health of the consulate cat population. In the future, cats will be trapped, receive medical care, and be sterilized, if necessary, on a monthly basis. This plan will ensure new cats are treated quickly and the consulate cat population stays at a manageable, healthy size.

Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Animals

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

It might surprise you, but there is currently no federal law against animal cruelty. While all 50 states consider animal cruelty a felony offense, the lack of federal law means local law enforcement often struggles with cases involving federal land or multiple states.

So, I’m happy to share that federal lawmakers are reaching across party lines in support of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act which would make it illegal to crush, burn, drown, suffocate or impale animals.

This common-sense legislation is an important step toward the further protection of animals across the United States.

The bill focuses on intentional animal cruelty and includes provisions for veterinary care, hunting, and unintentional acts, among several other exemptions. Personally, I believe this bill falls short in exempting animals used in scientific research, but I believe it is still a step in the right direction.

This legislation would build upon existing federal laws that prohibit the dissemination of materials showing animal cruelty but don’t criminalize the actual act of animal cruelty under federal law.

By closing this loophole, federal resources could be directed to animal cruelty cases which means animals will be safer and abusers will face stiffer penalties.

I believe this law is long overdue and that animals in the United States deserve to receive protection and justice from the federal government. In my opinion, this bill is critically important to stopping animal abuse by deterring criminals and holding them accountable.

You can read the full text and track the bill on the official United States Congress website, and I encourage you to contact your legislators to share your thoughts on the bill.

2018 – A Year of Milestones
In 2018, UPS worked with us on four Operation Baghdad Pups: Worldwide rescues. Kelby was one of those dogs and the best part is…UPS caught Kelby’s reunion with her soldier on video. Spoiler alert – you might cry happy tears.

As I reflect on 2018, I can’t help but feel a sense of incredible gratitude to every person who had a hand in making 2018 SPCA International’s most successful year yet.  Volunteers, donors, shelter partners, staff members, and social media sharers are located around the world – yet everyone is united around the common goal of improving life for innocent animals. I’m so excited to share the accomplishments that each and every person who is involved with SPCA International made possible last year.

2018 was a year of milestones, we increased our global impact by partnering with new partners in Bosnia, Kurdistan, and Puerto Rico while providing increased support to existing shelter partners. In addition to millions of dollars of veterinary supplies, we also provided over $400,000 in direct grants to support these shelters.

As our Operation Baghdad Pups – Worldwide program celebrated 10 years of successful operation, we reunited more soldiers and battle buddy pets than ever before. Additionally, our Operation Military Pets program celebrated 5 years and a million dollars of transportation assistance to military families relocating with pets. Through these two programs, we helped keep 579 pets out of shelters and with the soldiers who love them.

We are proud to have supported the first 15 animals EVER adopted out of the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone, provided hurricane disaster relief and rebuilding support to shelters in the Caribbean, contributed to awareness and education about the abuse of Spanish Greyhounds and dogfighting. Together, we saved thousands of animals from suffering around the world – all of which was accomplished thanks to generous SPCA International supporters.

As I look forward to 2019, I’m optimistic that we will accomplish even more by building on the strong foundation of years past. We’re planning to expand our operations so that we can support the health, safety, and happiness of more animals around the world. Our plans include increased veterinary supplies and funds for spay and neuter campaigns and education in countries where animals are the most vulnerable, keeping more military members and their pets together, and increasing our efforts on behalf of suffering animals worldwide.


UPS Delivers A Soldier’s Wish

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I continue to be amazed by the generosity of individuals and businesses that step up to save animals. When UPS told us they wanted to help reunite Lily and Kelby, I was overjoyed, but the story doesn’t end there. Lily and Kelby inspired the folks at UPS so much, that UPS donated funds to reunite three more dogs with US Soldiers.

Check out this heartwarming reunion video provided by UPS:

Animal Surrenders

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Animal surrender is a subject that breaks hearts and makes tempers fly. A recent story of a police officer who dumped his retired police dog, Ringo, in a shelter left me shocked and heartbroken. The sad truth is, this officer did what many people do, but it became a news story because of Ringo’s unique history.

Most people would never surrender a pet, and we know those who do usually feel they have no other choice and can no longer care for their animal. However, when all other options have been exhausted there are some important guidelines that people should follow. 

People struggling to keep their animals because of changed circumstances or any other reason should always contact the agency they adopted their pet from. Many adoption agencies have resources to help people keep their animals or can assist with re-homing to ensure the animal is placed in the best possible situation. In fact, this stipulation is outlined in most adoption agreements. 

Ringo, the retired police dog, is now living with his original trainer, who will provide the retirement Ringo deserves after 9 years of service. The officer that abandoned Ringo has been demoted, and the police department is conducting an internal investigation. 

We don’t know the circumstances surrounding this surrender, but we do know that police departments often don’t pay for retired K9’s ongoing care. Fortunately, the Retired Police Canine Foundation is an organization that assists with veterinary care and other expenses for retired K9 police officers. 

Canine Warning Signs

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Just as every human is unique, every dog is unique, we each thrive in some situations, but struggle in others.

Many of us adopt dogs with unknown pasts that can lead to seemingly “out of the blue” behaviors under certain circumstances. It always hurts my heart to hear that a dog is surrendered, rehomed, or even euthanized because of aggressive behavior – early identification of behaviors that signal discomfort can help us head-off potentially aggressive behavior.  

Of course, before bringing a dog into your home, you should do your due diligence to make sure that your home is appropriate for the dog’s temperament, but issues can arise well after initial adoption. Let’s take a look at some behavior warning signs and how we can deal with them before real aggression begins.

First of all, it is important to understand that aggression is often a defense mechanism. Our dogs can’t tell us with words if they are hurting, anxious, or uncomfortable so if we don’t pick up on their signals, aggressive behavior can seem like it comes without a warning.

Warning signs that all is not well with your dog:

  • Changes in body position- you know how your dog holds their ears and tail, how much white usually shows in their eyes, and how much of their teeth and gums are typically visible. Changes to any of these body positions are a good indicator that something isn’t right! Some of these signals are acute and some develop over time. For example, a drooping tail could mean an unnoticed injury or illness, while eyes showing more white than usual might be a fear response to an unknown visitor like a child who could pull hair or a man with a booming voice.
  • Out-of-character behavior- if your dog is suddenly shaking, yawning, licking in excess, or biting themselves, these are sure signs your dog is uncomfortable. Sometimes all it takes is stepping back and thinking about how the dog’s situation may have changed. Are there new people or pets in the home? Have you changed your routine? Are the people in your home under more stress than usual? As dogs become part of our families they pick up on the many obvious and not-so-obvious changes that affect our households.
  • Obvious waring signs- growling, snarling, and excessive barking are obvious warning signs that can lead to more serious aggression. Reprimanding for these behaviors may seem like the correct approach, but this can cause a dog to go from zero to ten in the future without ever displaying a warning. When your dog shows this kind of behavior, it is best to immediately change the situation to mitigate the behavior, then consider some of the following points.

How to address warning signs:

  • Make sure your dog is healthy- proper veterinary care is critical to ensuring your dog is comfortable. Untreated pain from illness or injury can cause even the kindest of dogs to react aggressively.
  • Training- most of us engage in dog-training when we first bring a new dog home, but there is never anything wrong with a refresher course. Professional dog trainers can often help identify and mitigate issues your dog is having.
  • Exercise and stimulation- a bored dog easily becomes an anxious dog, and an anxious dog is more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors. Appropriate toys and plenty of exercise can reduce stress and help dogs be their best.
  • A safe place- this is one of the most important things. All dogs should have a safe place, like a crate, where they can go if they are uncomfortable. Without this option, dogs are often stuck in uncomfortable situations which can cause them to turn to aggression. Family members and guests should be taught to respect the dog’s “safe place”. 

In conclusion, I hope these tips are helpful to you and your furry friends!