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 difference.

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.

 

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! 

Cruelty Free Products

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I am thrilled that Covergirl recently announced they have gone completely cruelty-free, making them the largest cosmetics company in the world to commit to this important standard.

This is an exciting step for cruelty-free beauty products, but I’m also pleased on a personal level. I haven’t used my favorite Covergirl All In One Mascara in years because of Covergirl’s past animal testing policy. Covergirl’s new policy means those of us committed to cruelty-free cosmetics now have more options than ever. 

Covergirl joins many other cruelty-free brands as Leaping Bunny certified, which means they and their suppliers engage in zero animal testing. Check out their list of cruelty-free home and beauty products, or you can download their app!

Another cruelty-free skincare brand I love is Pacifica. In addition to being cruelty-free, they also have other ways you can help the environment like a recycling program for used products. They’ll even send you a prepaid shipping label and give you a credit toward your next purchase. 

Today, more companies than ever are committing to kindness toward animals and the environment. Let’s hope more companies follow in Covergirl’s footsteps so we can all feel good about the products we buy!