Christmas is undeniably fast approaching, as terrified as I am to admit it. When I am not overseas working on a wildlife rescue project I do a bit of local rescue work back home and foster cats for a wonderful charity based here in Auckland called Lonely Miaow. Christmas is one of the busiest times for charities such as this one – not only does summer promise countless new kittens, but the festive season also brings an influx of people wanting to get pets as presents. Sadly, the time after Christmas also guarantees more work for rescue charities; for some new owners the reality of caring for a pet sinks in, and many animals are returned to where they came from.
I have never supported the concept of ‘gifting’ a live animal to someone else unless there has been thorough discussion and planning involved. I remember a client who came in for a consultation at a veterinary clinic I work at – a middle-aged lady with her elderly mother. The lady had purchased a fluffy toy breed puppy for her mother – it was running around the clinic waiting room, excitedly soiling the lino every time someone paid it some attention. A typical puppy, it was full of energy and needed lots of stimulation and patience. The lady was grinning from ear to ear, gushing about this little dog who she now got to visit a couple of times a week – meanwhile, her mother simply shook her head at me. Obviously this had not been a ‘gift’ she was prepared for.
Animals are responsibilities. They require time, dedication and, of course, adequate funds for food and medical care. Before acquiring a pet for someone this Christmas please remember to ensure that the decision is one that has been properly thought out by the receiving party. Pets deserve the gift of a good, caring home; not to be given as a spontaneous gift themselves.
Many animal Christmas gifts come from what I will refer to as ‘backyard breeders’ – people with entire animals who allow them to breed without any real oversight or proper planning. Often someone discovers they have a full litter of kittens or puppies on their hands, and decides that they need to find homes for the offspring in time for summer. In New Zealand anyone can breed their cat or dog – and our shelters are inundated with unwanted animals. A single female cat can be responsible for producing 25,000 descendants in only five years – no, that wasn’t a typo! One female cat can have two-three litters per year, of up to nine or so kittens. These kittens can start producing themselves from only several months of age – the numbers quickly add up.
New Zealand has a massive number of stray, roaming cats – that’s where Lonely Miaow come in. They get these animals ‘off the streets’ so to speak, put them into a foster home, desex them, and then their foster owners find them a forever home. Since my time working with Lonely Miaow I have rehomed 21 kittens and cats – not a huge number, but that is 21 little furballs not out there contributing to the mass feral population; 21 little furballs with a happy home, medical care, full tummies and awesome owners.
Another Auckland-based charity that I have some dealings with do similar work for dogs. HURRAH – the Humane Rescue, Rehabilitation and Rehoming Charitable Trust – is a volunteer-run group that rescues unwanted dogs, puts them into foster care and provides them with everything they need for a new, happy life. Some of these animals had been surrendered for euthanasia by their previous owners – HURRAH do amazing work with finding these dogs, giving them proper behavioural training and medical treatment, and ensuring they are ready for a caring, responsible home.
Not only this, but HURRAH have recently started up an even more community-focused initiative: the Desexy Revolution. Desexy Revolution aims to eliminate the high number of unwanted puppies in Auckland by offering desexing services to lower-income families. They require massive support for this – not just financial aid and surgical equipment, but man-power too; vets, nurses, dog handlers, administrators – and these are all volunteers.
In September I lent my nursing skills to Desexy Revolution for one of their mass clinics. In just one day and with only two surgery tables we spayed and neutered over 20 dogs – a fantastic feat. I was at the end of the line in Recovery; as soon as each veterinarian had finished surgery on a dog, I and the trainee nurse stationed with me would take the animals off the table, set them up in a recovery kennel, and ensure they woke up properly. Their endotracheal tubes and intravenous catheters would need to be removed, their post-operative medication (including pain relief) would be given, and we would monitor each animal closely to ensure its early recovery was going to plan. A big part of our job was shuffling animals around for space; with only three recovery kennels we had to be pretty smart about our resources!
The day truly was a great success. It even made national news! You can check out the little piece here.
Initiatives like this are so important, but nothing beats responsible pet ownership. I really don’t encourage backyard breeding; I have worked in veterinary clinics, shelters and rescue facilities, and the number of abandoned animals passing through these establishments is shocking. For each puppy or kitten born, that means one less potential home for a shelter animal in need. If you are going to be blessing loved ones with a furry addition to the family, consider a rescue animal. They are far less likely to have medical issues than most pure-bred pets, and providing a wonderful life for an animal in need is one of the most satisfying things you could ever do.