Moments during our response to the River, Carmel and Dolan Fires I won’t soon forget…(Please click the title or photo to read more.)
Weeks into our shelter-in-place, I called a childhood friend I hadn’t spoken to in 20+ years. As pre-teens, we were inseparable, playing sports, collecting baseball cards and taking family vacations together. We spoke for close to two hours, mentioned dozens of names from the old neighborhood, got up to speed on our current lives, and laughed a ton. (Please click the title or photo to read more.)
Yerevan, Armenia is 7,000 miles from Soledad, CA and 14 hours by plane. In so many ways, the cities are worlds apart. Yet, they share at least one common thread: a young man charged with attempted murder in 2002 who’s now volunteering for one of Armenia’s only animal shelters. (Please click the title or photo to read more.)
Mr. Rogers famously said "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping'." We see those helpers everywhere now: in our hospitals, delivering groceries, sewing protective gear for first responders, and right here at the SPCA. (Please click the title or photo to read more.)
There is an emptiness at the SPCA. Amidst this global pandemic, we quickly moved many animals into foster homes and permanent ones. We suspended services and programs, cancelled events, and modified animal intake to address emergencies only. Yet, we’re still here and still helping animals. (Please click the title or photo to read more.)
You’re Super Tuesday-ed out and done with delegates. The bloom is off The Bachelor’s final rose, and you are shaking your head at the conflicting and confusing Coronavirus coverage (or my alliteration)? I can help.(please click the title or photo to read more)
Early February is a time for love letters and this one’s for the moppy lug sleeping near my feet as I’m typing.
Murray, you came into our lives 10 years ago after being taken to the local shelter by your first family; they had three dogs plus four young kids and needed to move from a house to an apartment. Something had to give and it was you. Your previous owners said you lived outside, that you were a poodle mixed with the dog from the Beethoven movie, and that you liked tortilla chips! (please click the title or photo to read more!)
The holidays are here whether you’re ready or not. The Budweiser Clydesdales are popular this time of year and their commercials are super cute and clever, but I have something that will pull at your heartstrings even more.
Last month around this time, a local resident surrendered two dogs, saying he could no longer care for them. This happens daily at SPCA. The owner explained that they were both backyard dogs, left outdoors 24/7 in fact, and he noted one was highly unsocial. During our intake evaluation, we found this dog to be shy, but friendly. Once staff spent more time with her, a wiggly, playful dog emerged; one we knew we could safely rehome. What we didn’t know at the time was the right match was just around the corner.
There’s a verse I like in a popular country song by Rodney Atkins.
And it makes me wanna take a back road
Makes me wanna take the long way home
Put a little gravel in my travel
Unwind, unravel all night long
Makes me wanna grab my honey
Tear down some two lane country who knows
Get lost and get right with my soul
Makes me wanna take, makes me wanna take a back road
I like playing matchmaker and I have a special touch and soft spot for women in their 80s. I’m not so great matching people, but pretty good with pets.
All adoptions are special. But, I’ll admit, some are just more special. Anyone who works for a shelter would say the same.
Animals touch us differently. Sometimes, this is based on what they endured before coming into our care and the remarkable transformation they make through our hard work and the SPCA’s TLC Program. Other times, it’s the special people who adopt them and the great feeling knowing the match is perfect, that the animal will be loved and give the person, couple or family every bit as much in return.
We had two of these “more special” adoptions recently, both horses. We never put time limits on our adoptable pets, but once dogs and cats are made available for adoption at the SPCA -- after we’ve spayed/neutered them, and completed any necessary medical and/or behavior work -- we rehome them, on average, in 6-7 days! For horses, it’s closer to one year. There’s simply a much smaller market of people looking to adopt and people fully prepared in all ways, including financially, to care for horses.
Howard Stern. Brilliant, wildly entertaining generational talent or unctuous, egotistical, crude shock jock? Most people have an immediate, definitive opinion. This is the man who titled his first book and movie Private Parts, and adopted the alter-ego superhero Fartman who took on bad guys with his flatulence, but has also ridden high in the entertainment world for a nearly unheard of four decades.
How about Howard Stern, tireless and dedicated kitten foster parent? Not even 1,000 kitties can poop out this guy and his equally committed wife! They’ve fostered this many (up to 25 at a time!) in recent years, helping the animal shelter in their area, and Stern says his work rescuing and caring for kittens both calms him when he’s stressed and has defined his life the last couple of years. An “insane, beautiful thing” he says.
Paul’s Pebble Beach home was filled with Scottie dogs. I tried counting them.
Scotties in paintings and photos. Scottie pillows, hand towels and figurines. I thought I found all of them, then noticed another wearing a lampshade; a Scottie was the decorative lamp base!
But, no real Scottie dogs scampering around or sleeping on couches, and for good reason.
I looked to the sky at just the right time. A Red-tailed hawk had just dived down to grab a live rat in its talons. She was ascending directly above me while I was walking Murray, our rescue mutt, in our neighborhood not far from Big Sur Land Trust open space. What happened next was pretty cool.
Murray, 12 years old in a few months, didn’t mind stopping, having just crested a steep block. I kept my head up, and his went down to investigate new smells. The hawk and the hawk’s chicks began a series of back and forth contact calls, a version of the popular swimming pool game, Marco Polo. In this case, calls help the adult find chicks eagerly awaiting their next meal. Red-tailed hawks co-parent so the adult could have been male or female. I’ll go with “she.”
It’s summer Animal Camp season at the SPCA. Each Monday, a new group of 40 eight to twelve-year-olds visits our campus for a week-long day camp led by our Humane Education and Outreach Coordinator — Miss Darlenne to the kids — and her talented team of junior counselors.
This popular SPCA mainstay since the 1980s offers children a unique mix of fun and educational hands-on experiences that nurture compassion and respect for all living things, and makes a difference for animals in our care. And, every now and then, the kids work their parents over and end up adopting a dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig, snake or bird they’ve met during the week!
My two kids are three-year camp veterans and they enjoyed camp this summer every bit as much as they did our first summer here in 2016. No doubt, Audrey will apply for a counselor position when she’s eligible, age-wise, in a few years.
Our logo is a bit of a mess and mystery. As far as anyone here knows, it was created for us sometime between 1989 and 1991. Prior to that, we had a typeface only logo, our SPCA letters spun in a groovy 1970s font. That should have gone out with feathered hair, pet rocks and disco, but it survived a decade past its “freshness” date.
A class of students possibly from Monterey Peninsula College took on our logo project either unsolicited or by invitation. Again, the history’s fuzzy. Each student in the class developed a concept and one was selected by our leadership or by a vote. Who knows? And that’s the logo we have and use today. Well, almost. Interestingly, this logo did not initially include our name. Oops.
Depending on how one looks at it, the logo could be seen as clever, confusing, cluttered or maybe a little of everything. Let’s begin with the whale, the logo’s featured star. And, that starts and ends with one simple question: why? We don’t save whales, we don’t find new homes for them and don’t write legislation that protects them. We like them and they are here, in Monterey Bay. Maybe that’s why they made the logo.
As I often say, we see the best and worst in people in our business. Take this past week, which started with this email message:
“I need to get rid of these three dogs. One of them is half boxer and something else and the other 2 is rottweiler [sic] and I just really need to get rid of them. They’re just taking up to much room for me and my family.”
Wow. I haven’t seen a message worded so bluntly, with so much detachment. As the only open-admission shelter in Monterey County, we responded as we always do, informing the owner that we should be seen as a last resort after they’ve exhausted other efforts to rehome their dogs…that we rehome all healthy animals, that we make well most animals with health and behavior challenges, but can’t make any promises. We assess animals carefully and individually.
On April 28, the Monterey Herald ran a Letter to the Editor from a Seaside resident. The writer promoted low-cost spay/neuter, made claims about animals being tortured and dumped, and criticized the SPCA and other local rescue groups for spending “virtually zero dollars” on spay/neuter. The letter made many inaccurate points, so we responded with this as yet unpublished letter.
I joke that our shelter is like the 1980’s classic sitcom Cheers. Our volunteer group is 350 strong, filled with a cast of colorful characters, and the Cheers opening theme “Everybody knows your name” applies to the regulars. Meet two from our Cat Adoption floor, Benny and Susan.
Benny has lived a few lives, much like the cats he watches over at the SPCA. He spent four years in the Navy as an air traffic controller, sold Armani and Hugo Boss suits, then found a career in the hotel, restaurant and bar business. This included a stint as assistant manager at the Phoenix at Nepenthe in Big Sur and bartender at Rocky Point Restaurant, just south of Carmel. Like the bartender from Billy Joel’s Piano Man, “quick with a joke or a light of your smoke” applies to Benny.
Benny invested well and retired early and that was good for us and the animals. He began volunteering with the SPCA four years ago just to “get out of the house” and he found much more than that. He spends four or five hours in our cat adoption wing every Monday and Wednesday. Sam “Mayday” Malone’s charm with Cliff Clavin’s gift of gab. That’s Benny.
If it should be that I grow frail and weak,
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then will you do what must be done?
You will be sad I understand,
But don’t let grief then stay your hands,
We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn’t want me to suffer so,
When the time comes, please let me go.
Take me to where my needs they’ll tend,
Only, stay with me until the end
And hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.
I know in time you will agree,
It is a kindness you do for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I have been saved.
Don’t grieve that it must be you,
Who has to decide this thing you do.
We’ve been so close – we two – these years,
Don’t let your heart hold any tears. – author unknown
I trust many of you have seen this poem. It gets me every time, especially the last line. When I think about the final days, minutes and seconds with my last dog, Cooper, I lose it. If I think about the end with Murray, our perfectly healthy 11-year-old, I well-up. We can’t bear to think about losing our recent addition JoJo and she’s just 11 months old with hopefully 12-15 years ahead of her. I think about special relationships that family, friends and co-workers have with their pets and the loss they will feel someday, and that gets me.
Eric Clower, the SPCA’s super-talented Maintenance Manager, oversees all aspects of our 200+ acre campus. Our resident MacGyver tackles complicated HVAC systems, maintains a small fleet of vehicles, and chases down water intrusions from rooftops in a single bound. He didn’t wake up last Wednesday morning thinking he’d be building a turtle platform. But, it’s what he did and it’s among the many reasons I love this organization.
The backstory: our equally talented Humane Investigations Supervisor, Marty Opseth, was out playing a round of golf. Knowing he was with the SPCA, the golf course staff brought him their animal-related dilemma: turtles in their man-made pond were having trouble sunning themselves, clinging to the pond’s steep edge. Aquatic turtles, as some of you know, need sunlight. They spend the good part of their day basking in it. Basically, they live the lives of Kardashians.
According to Wikipedia, an “animal rescue group or animal rescue organization is dedicated to pet adoption. These groups take unwanted, abandoned, abused or stray pets and attempt to find suitable homes for them….rescue groups exist for most pet types (reptile rescue, rabbit rescue, bird rescue), but most are common for dogs and cats…rescue groups often find volunteers with space in their homes for temporary placement.”
Can an animal shelter also be an animal rescue group? What is the SPCA?
Like a rescue group, the SPCA is funded by donations and is dedicated to finding new loving homes for animals. We do this for between eight and nine of every 10 animals we receive which is especially meaningful given we never turn away animals. We accept unwanted, abandoned, abused, neglected and stray animals daily! This includes physically and behaviorally broken animals and animals that no amount of resources could possibly make well.
We’d like to see rain tomorrow. Not a heavy downpour and gusty winds that rattle windows and cause power outages. Just the kind of steady rain that might cause people to stay off roads and inside, curled up by the TV, preferably with a loved pet on their lap or at their feet. We’re also hoping for no big breaking news, unplanned presidential messages or the release of the Mueller Report!
Why? Tomorrow is the SPCA’s annual “Share the Love” telethon, 6 am to 8 pm, on KSBW 8 and Central Coast ABC.
During commercial breaks of your favorite shows, fabulous KSBW news anchor Brittany Nielsen and irrepressible meteorologist Gina DeVecchio — animal lovers in their own right — will introduce heartwarming stories about animals you helped rescue, and they’ll be joined by yours truly and other SPCA staff. You’ll learn about everything your local, independent SPCA does for pets, people, and wildlife in Monterey County.
We snipped our way to 150,000! The SPCA’s low-cost spay/neuter clinic, which has served Monterey County since 1976 as the area’s only consistent provider of low-cost spay and neuter, reached the life-saving milestone this week.
We celebrated the feat with an unsuspecting pet owner — lucky number 150,000! Next week, we’ll party with our clinic staff. A sheet cake customized for spay/neuter work could go in a few interesting directions, but I didn’t want to be the one to describe this over the phone to a bakery. We’ll keep it simple, sweet and non anatomical.
If you’ve visited animal shelters between here and the SF Bay Area, you may have noticed the name George Whittell on a building. It’s on the SPCA’s Education Center, in fact. The made for Hollywood story behind this would be a perfect vehicle for Bradley Cooper or Gary Oldman.
George Whittell Jr. died in a Redwood City hospital at the age of 87 in 1969. He left three quarters of his $40 million estate to the National Audubon Society, the Defenders of Wildlife and a number of animal hospital and pet cemeteries. Of the remainder, $6 million was bequeathed to the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to “relieve the suffering and pain of animals.” The problem was that no such organization with that exact name existed.
Naturally, the ambiguously worded will created a field day for animal groups. More than 50 staked claim to the $6 million remainder, some with stronger cases than others. The humane society located near Mr. Whittell’s Woodside estate had a good case, as did the San Francisco SPCA, since he owned property there and belonged to many social organizations. He purchased several acres on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe and may have had landholdings in Carmel.
Ugly sweaters have jumped the shark. Now that sweaters are specifically designed and made to impress at ugly sweater contests, that goes against the spirit. I mean, it started as a simple idea where people would pull out their ugly sweater that wasn’t designed to look ugly. It just was. That was the beauty (or ugliness) of it.
For decades, animal shelters placed a moratorium on adoptions in the days leading up to Christmas and would forbid people from adopting pets as gifts to protect them from being sent back, just like ugly sweaters that get returned in the days after Christmas.
As they say, a photo’s worth a thousand words. To me, this photo is worth much more, but I’ve kept it to a tidy 567. Hey, we’re all busy this time of year. Busy decorating homes, addressing holiday cards, and shopping.
Our neighborhood is holding a holiday lights decorating contest; $100 for first place, $50 for second and $25 for third. My 8-year-old pleaded “Go big, Dad!” He doesn’t have a great sense of money yet and I don’t have the heart to tell him I already spent the equivalent of the first-place dough on extension cords. My wife asked if I knew what I was doing with all the cords and multi-pronged outlets snaked around the garage and front yard. I said yes with Clark W. Griswold confidence, but I’m also holding my breath when anyone plugs-in a hair dryer.
Two custom, almost life-sized gingerbread men (people?) we made for our front yard could push us into contention. Why buy inflatables, when you can spend far more time jigsawing, sanding, painting and sealing plywood? One of the cookie cutter figures needed minor surgery after a button eyeball I attached with glue slid halfway down his face, making him look more like a deformed Halloween decoration. The eye is screwed back where it belongs. We’re looking good now, ready to be judged.
Our feeds are filled with news related to shootings and fires. We can’t even catch a small break in the world of sports, an escape for many. The Golden State Warriors, who’ve brought nothing but joy, championships and parades in recent years, are fighting with each other!
We need something warm and snuggly. Meet Coco whose name alone fits the bill and that’s just the beginning.
This week, I’m going back to a familiar topic: our Humane Investigations work. With apologies, I’m going to rant a little.
First, the background. As avid readers of this blog know, The SPCA for Monterey County investigates animal cruelty reports and complaints. We do this by choice because the animals need us and because this work aligns with our nonprofit mission. We do not receive government funding or tax dollars for this work, and it is not required by law. This vital, compassionate, and often heartbreaking work is made entirely possibly by donations.
New people bring a fresh pair of eyes, another perspective on programs or services, opportunities others may not have seen or, some things less important. This falls into the latter category.
Most days, I take my shelter dog on a short walk to enjoy some of the SPCA’s magnificent, 200 acres. Our buildings sit on a somewhat flat five-acre bowl and the surrounding land is oak-studded, sloped and rugged, with meandering unpaved access trails. Truly, an amazing gift.
My walk takes me past our oldest structure — a wooden, two-story building which houses programs for kids and an office for our Humane Investigations team.
Last Thursday, SPCA staff attended a hearing for the man charged with lighting on fire and torturing his family’s beloved dog. We prepared media statements for any possible outcome and heard the one we had hoped for but didn’t expect. Devonte Sirwet pled no contest to three felony charges and two strikes. As part of his plea agreement, he’ll be sentenced next month to six years and eight months in state prison.
It took nearly two years, but the final piece of being a tried and true SPCA employee was thrust into my arms this summer when a co-worker brought a surrendered puppy to meet me after I let it slip that my family was looking to adopt.
I did tell co-workers we were interested in a dog. This powder puff looked and felt more like a guinea pig with piranha teeth! The mostly white with black patches, 8-week old Shih Tzu mix barely moved the scale at 4.1 pounds. When curled up asleep, she looked like an ice cream sundae without the cherry on top.
For our fiscal year which just ended June 30, the SPCA’s Humane Investigations team responded to 981 reports related to animal cruelty or abuse. I have mixed feelings seeing that number, and imagine you might as well. Is that number heartwrenching or comforting?
Here’s my take. On one level, seeing 981 truly sickens me. We live in a county famous for being pet friendly and we live in a time where people care far more about their pets than they ever have. Decades ago, dogs lived in the yard, maybe with access to a garage if they were lucky. Today, many dogs share homes with their people, even beds in some cases, and have their own social media followers! Despite all this, we receive, on average, nearly 20 reports of animal cruelty, abuse or mistreatment every week.
I don’t know exactly why, but it wasn’t until I was well into my 40s that I began thinking about how my Dad introduced me to animals, which would eventually lead to my career choice.
Baseball was our main connection, the obvious one. We played catch all the time and went to more Giants games at Candlestick Park than I can remember. He coached my first few little league teams, then backed off as I got older, but was every bit as interested and never the obnoxious “Little League Dad.” In college, when it became clear I wasn’t going to be the Giants’ next third basemen, this seemed harder for Dad than me in some ways.
summer, they set-up tables outside of Safeway and Starbucks. This past week, they hit the Crossroads in Carmel. You’ll see them with orange logoed T-shirts, table coverings and marketing materials.
These efforts are an attempt to gain support of local residents…to add names to mailing lists and email distributions. This massive East Coast nonprofit fully understands we live in an area that is crazy about animals and has pockets of incredible wealth.
The ASPCA spent $40 million in fundraising expenses in 2016 (likely even more this past year) and raised nearly $200,000,000. That’s no typo. I have the right number of zeroes. I’m certain some of those funds came from Monterey County residents and also certain at least some of those residents fully believed their donations to the ASPCA trickled down to the SPCA for Monterey County and benefitted animals locally.
You may have seen recent local news stories about the euthanasia rates at the local municipal, tax-funded shelters.
Naturally, The SPCA cares about all homeless animals in our community, and not just those that come into our care. That said, it wasn’t clear from the headlines that the statistics given focused entirely on Salinas Animal Services (SAS) and
I’ve found The SPCA’s future Development Director. She checks all the boxes for this vital role. Passion for our mission. Check. Warm and personable. Check. Not afraid to ask others to open up their checkbooks and piggy banks to support our cause. Check. Results-driven. Check. Poised, polished, delightful. Check, check, check. She also draws really well, so that’s a bonus. She does not drive, but we can work around that.
The way I see it, my new friend Dahlia will join our staff around 2038, after she’s graduated from college and has had a few years of professional seasoning under her belt. She turns seven in three weeks!
We first met Dahlia, a local resident, during our Telethon in March. She brought in $200 in pennies. She found a penny one day and that sparked an idea: pennies for puppies. With the help of her parents who hand-rolled 20,000 pennies (add “delegates well” to Dahlia’s list of attributes), Dahlia made the largest gift we can recall for someone her age.
I sent this email message to the entire SPCA staff two weeks ago:
Next year’s SPCA Wag n’ Walk fundraiser will take place on 4/20. We will invite local marijuana dispensaries to have booths at our event and this will increase the revenue stream from vendors. Once the pot heads are on-board, that will open-up countless opportunities and this is where I need your help to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on ideas. For example, a marijuana vendor might charge $5 per hit for our participants (Puffs for Pups!). Easy money for shelter animals, right? As another idea, we’re looking at having a special Zig Zag agility course just for humans who have taken the most hits. That could be more fun than watching the dogs in their agility area! In fact, we could go all out and rebrand this event as the Wag n’ Weed which would enable us to reach an entirely new audience. Our highly popular event T-shirt could say this on the back: “I inhaled (but my dog did not!) at the SPCA’s Wag n’ Weed.”
Before you report me to the local authorities, please know I sent this April 1. We have to have fun where we can! And, yes, I did fool a few people for at least a few sentences!
“We rescued her minutes before she was going to be euthanized.”
I’ve heard countless variations of that statement and people I know who work at other shelters will tell you they’ve heard the same from adopters in their communities.
I heard it again today. A friend bumped into another person walking a dog, then struck up a conversation. One dog walker told my friend how she had “rescued her dog from the clutches of death just in time” at our SPCA. She claimed the SPCA adoption counselor told her we give the dogs about a month. She said she was given the dog’s intake date, noted that it was close to 30 days, so felt she just had to adopt to “get her out of there.”
This drives me nuts! My only theory is that some adopters, like some people in general, like being dramatic. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The name Marie Aronson isn’t familiar to many of you but she’s special to the SPCA. When I walk through our adoption courtyard where potential adopters spend time getting to know our dogs — where the magic happens — I pass a bench with this inscription: “In Honor of Deputy District Attorney Marie Aronson – Champion of Animal Rights.” Marie’s co-workers, colleagues and friends made a generous donation for the naming rights for a bench to memorialize her shortly after she passed away last year.
Marie, as a member of Monterey County’s District Attorney’s Office, prosecuted animal abuse cases for 15 years. When she first arrived at the DA’s office in the 1980s, she “self-identified” as an animal lover and protector, and actively pursued cases that SPCA humane investigators built and submitted for prosecution.
We half joke that Mamma, a non-releasable adult Great-Horned Owl who acts as a surrogate mother to orphaned baby owls at the SPCA’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, is our hardest working volunteer. After all, she mothers babies ‘round the clock and has raised more than 50 owl chicks since arriving years ago with a significant, untreatable wing injury preventing her release.
SPCA Volunteer Jeff Weill may have knocked Mamma off her perch. Figuratively-speaking, of course.
Jeff joined the SPCA as a volunteer in June 2016, when he was looking to enrich his lighter schedule after wrapping-up a career as a Department of Defense project manager. He was familiar with the SPCA, having adopted a Shepherd/Lab mix (a “Schlab,” one of our specialities!) from us when he was 19 years old, and that sweet companion was with him the next 14 years.
Two weeks ago, SPCA Facebook followers met Pecan and Chocolate, two miniature donkeys available for adoption. Soon thereafter, so did the rest of the world. Well, not exactly, but a whole mess of them did. The donkey post reached 435,000 people, it was shared 2,400 times and received 2,000+ comments. In our world, that’s viral. It’s bigger than learning the name of Kim Kardashian and Kayne’s baby or the “This is Us” spoiler alert.
Years ago, when I was new to this field, I sat in on a pet loss grief support group session. I wanted to experience all our programs in action and I was amazed this one existed.
I specifically remember a young couple. They were in tears, talking about their loss, how it hurt so much, how they were depressed and losing sleep and how their home felt empty. Then, the kicker. “And we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get another bird” A bird!? I assumed they were talking about a dog or cat and never imagined people could connect as deeply with a bird.
Join the pack.
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