COVID-19: What We Know

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I hope you are staying safe and healthy while we navigate the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. Here at SPCA International, we are in constant communication with officials, shelter partners and rescue organizations. They are keeping us abreast of the latest developments in Asia, Europe, Latin America and here in North America.  

People all over the world are stepping up to make sure animals stay safe during this crisis. In many countries, people are restricted from moving between their homes and workplaces, so shelter staff and volunteers are living at shelters to care for animals. However, animals continue to be at risk, mostly because of food shortages.

Over the past few weeks, many shelters have contacted us for help. They are scattered across the globe, but their stories are eerily similar. Stores are closing, food shipments are delayed, people don’t know if they’ll be allowed to go out to buy more food when they need it. Everyone is hustling to make sure they can feed the animals in their care during this crisis.  

Unfortunately, animals not in the care of animal welfare groups are at extremely high risk. We have reports from our partners that dogs in China are being killed indiscriminately and pets are being abandoned on the streets of Italy due to unfounded fears. Pets are being left behind when their owners pass away unexpectedly. Animal welfare groups are doing their best to respond to each of these emergency situations and save as many animals as possible while facing an uncertain future themselves.

As this situation unfolds, we’re continuing to monitor animal welfare across the globe and step in where we can help. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we have been able to earmark $100,000 for animal welfare groups affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

We know the global COVID-19 crisis is far from over, and there are many unknowns, so we remain committed to helping animal welfare groups meet new and unique challenges as they arise.

Please, stay safe and healthy during this difficult time.

If you would like to help us continue to provide vital support to shelters and animals around the world in this most challenging time : 

Working Dogs Left to Die

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

You may have seen the news recently about the reports published about horrendous neglect of U.S. bomb-sniffing dogs in Jordan. In response to a hotline complaint, the Office of the Inspector General sent a team to do an evaluation of the kennel conditions of Explosive Detection Canines provided to Jordan. What they found was a horrifying combination of neglect, overwork and lack of basic veterinary care.

Dogs that were carefully trained to save lives are now living in squalid conditions. Their kennels are covered in feces, their water bowls are often dry, and they aren’t being fed regularly. All of that, and they are still expected to work long days under the hot sun; sniffing for bombs.

The report that was published makes an attempt to correct the living conditions, and some progress has been made. In late December, the State Department announced it would stop sending working dogs to Jordan and Egypt.

Unfortunately, U.S. trained dogs continue to live and work in Jordan and other foreign partner nations. This can feel like a lost cause, but it isn’t. We must urge the U.S. Government to implement worldwide standards of care can be met and monitored.

Will you join us in standing up for these animals? Please SIGN OUR PETITION urging the government for more transparency:

Our petition asks the State Department to STOP sending dogs to partner nations until policies are in place to ensure the well-being of these military dogs.

I have added my name to the list and hope you will too. You can read the full OIG report here:

Spay and Neuter: Still New in Developing Countries

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we talk a lot about spay and neuter. I know it can seem like a tired subject because it is such a common practice here in North America. However, in many developing countries around the world, sterilizing pets is a new concept, and it is just starting to catch on.

That’s the good news, though. Spaying and neutering pets is becoming more common in some of the most unlikely places, thanks to incredible SPCA International partner organizations. Last year, we supported organizations on every continent (except Antarctica) that are working hard to improve the health and living conditions of vulnerable animals by reducing suffering through spay and neuter initiatives.

SPCA International provides direct cash grants through our Shelter Support Fund and veterinary supplies through our Veterinary Supply Aid program for animal welfare organizations across the globe that have limited resources. These resources ensure that the surgeries can be carried out with the proper, sterilized instruments and necessary medications.

These partner organizations are carrying the message to rural villages and urban cities that spaying and neutering is humane and practical. Beyond educating the public, they are also setting up free and low-cost spay and neuter campaigns to ensure people can access the care their pets need. In many remote places there are no established veterinary clinics or regular access to veterinary care which makes these low cost campaigns incredibly important. Across the globe, millions of animals are born, live short lives and die on the streets. These animals experience extreme suffering, which is why spay and neuter is so critical. Every animal spayed or neutered saves several thousand potential animals from suffering.  At SPCA International we will continue to work toward the day that no animal has to suffer from simply being born into an inhospitable environment.

Giving Tuesday

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

The Giving Tuesday movement has been growing each year since it began in 2012 and represents millions of dollars generously donated to non-profit organizations around the world. It is an important day for SPCA International, but not just because of the donations that help save animal’s lives around the world.

Giving Tuesday is about celebrating a great American tradition of generosity in a world that seems increasingly disconnected. As someone who works across international borders the global demonstration of giving is particularly heartwarming for me.  

Intrinsically tied to Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday helps us kick off the holiday season by considering how we can take an active role in making the world a better place and gives us a chance to stand with others who care about the same causes.

This year, I hope you’ll consider starting the holiday season with a donation on Giving Tuesday. No matter how small, Giving Tuesday donations make a difference. When millions of people make donations on the same day, they are speaking with one voice to tell others they care.

Emergency Rescues Surge as Troops Pull Out of Syria

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

The U.S. Government’s recent announcement to pull troops out
of Syria has caused a surge in applications to our Operation Baghdad Pups:
Worldwide program. Our Middle East and North America teams are working hard to
make sure we get to animals before their soldiers leave. It hasn’t been easy,
but our dedicated staff has risen to the challenge.

Over the past week, I have been reflecting on these challenges and feel extremely grateful to the recurring donors that support rescues month after month. Recurring donations help SPCA International take action when a crisis arises, because we know we can count on regular financial support from a group of generous individuals. Without these funds, we would have to turn some soldiers down. 

With the current situation in Syria, recurring donations have
allowed us to take over 20 animals into our care on very short notice. These
animals were immediately placed with a safe veterinary team and are being cared
for until they are cleared for travel.

The soldiers on the ground understand how difficult
conditions are for animals in the Middle East. They know if their beloved pets
are left behind, they will quickly fall victim to the elements, hunger, thirst,
packs of wild dogs and even human cruelty.

These men and women who serve our country are so extremely
grateful for the help we are able to provide thanks to the generous individuals
who give to SPCA International.

In closing, thank you to everyone who donates to
SPCA International. Whether once, or monthly, your dollars make a huge

My Dog Lilah Lives with an Uncurable Disease

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

In my role with SPCA International, I have had the rewarding job of helping many animals with special needs. I never imagined that my own rescue dog, Lilah would end up diagnosed with a degenerative disease and using a cart to help her get around.

Lilah came into my life on February 13th, 2009. It was a Friday, and I had the day off from work. I decided to visit a local animal shelter and fell for Lilah. I can’t count how many times I have told the story of how my first glimpse of her was sticking her snaggle tooth through the opening in her enclosure looking for treats. She was barely a year old and had just weaned her first litter of puppies. There was a lot of interest in Lilah’s puppies, but most people looked right past her. The shelter told me she wasn’t available for adoption because she hadn’t been cleared medically from giving birth and nursing.

The next day was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. I told my boyfriend (now husband!) that all I wanted for Valentine’s Day was for him to come see this dog with me. I convinced him by reminding him that she wasn’t even up for adoption yet.

We went to the shelter, and low and behold, Lilah had been made available for adoption. Needless to say, she came home with us that day.  Over the last decade she has brought immeasurable joy into our lives with her silly personality. She’s inspired so many friends and family to adopt animals of their own, it’s like she’s her own one-dog rescue mission.

Last September, we noticed that she was dragging her right hind foot, with the top of her nails scraping. Now we know this is called “knuckling over” and it’s one of the first indicators of Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease of the spinal cord. DM is an inherited neurologic disorder with symptoms similar to that of ALS in humans.

We thought her hips were getting bad, or she was starting to suffer from arthritis. We started extensive testing of her joints, and started treatment for arthritis but her condition did not improve. Degenerative Myelopathy is a diagnosis of elimination, meaning you look for the most common contributors to the symptoms first. Finally, we did a blood test for the genetic mutation in the SOD1 gene known to cause this disease. A positive result for the mutation does not always mean your dog will be symptomatic. Unfortunately for Lilah, she is in the 25% of pups that inherit the disease from their parents.

I am lucky to have access to so much information by way of my profession, but I had a lot to learn about this disease. It was devastating to learn that Lilah’s mobility would continue to get worse, and there was no way to stop this freight train barreling at us. So, I decided to focus on the things we could do to improve her quality of life and help her live her last years in comfort.

We learned that it was important for us to keep Lilah active while not over straining her muscles, so for the fist few months after her diagnosis, we kept doing what we always did. We would take Lilah to Central Park with her red Kong ball where she would play with herself by placing the ball at the top of a hill and letting it roll down.

We also began working with a veterinarian who specializes in acupuncture, Dr. Jeff Levy. After each appointment Lilah had a noticeable pep in her step, and the treatments helped alleviate some of the anxiety she was feeling. By the end of each appointment she can be found snoring happily, dreaming of the days she was chasing squirrels in her prime.

We started working with Canine Rehab of New York to do underwater rehab, stretching, and massage. The vet also recommended giving Lilah CBD oil from ElleVet to help with the physical symptoms and anxiety of having decreased mobility.

Today, Lilah uses a pink cart from Walkin’ Wheels that supports her back legs. They provide new and refurbished carts for all sizes of dogs and we are so grateful that Lilah’s cart has improved her quality of life.

Thanks to the cart, Lilah still happily goes on walks. As time goes by, it’s almost as if she’s forgotten that she’s in a cart, and she continues to do the things she did before with the same joy for life she has always had. She’s learned to run, turn on a dime and reverse with the skill of a stunt driver. We have also noticed that Lilah likes to have a little more space from strangers these days, so it’s good to remember to ask owners if their pets like to be touched.

So many people have shared that they know another dog that uses a cart and it is amazing how many people just want to talk with us about Lilah.

I’m sharing this personal story with you in case you notice symptoms like Lilah’s in your own dog. When the disease is caught early, more can be done to relieve symptoms and slow the progression. Remember, your animal can’t advocate for themselves so they are counting on you to do it for them. The average lifespan for a dog with DM is 6 months to 3 years, and there’s nothing I can do to quiet the clock ticking in my head. For now, we are enjoying every day with Lilah and she’s enjoying her life to the fullest. I won’t let thoughts of our inevitable good-bye cloud what time we have left. Someone once told me animals embrace life without self-pity, and that has never been clearer to me than through this experience.

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.