It’s a Miracle!

It’s a Miracle!


Okay, maybe I am overstating it a bit, but the other day, an event at the shelter had staff and volunteers out front, exclaiming in joy and surprise. Was it a check for ten million bucks? Sadly, no. It was a gentleman and his son claiming their missing cat!

I’m guessing you’re surprised this is such a big deal for us. Truthfully, for all of the staff here at WCHS, this feels close to a miracle. When this older male cat showed up as a stray and had a microchip, Heidi, our vet tech, was thrilled. When the chip was actually registered to a person with a current phone number, I thought she might just explode before my very eyes.

Five to seven million cats and dogs enter shelters each year. Sadly, less than 5 percent of stray cats that make it into shelters nationwide are claimed by their owners. Or, to put it another way, 95 percent of the cats that come into shelters? No one ever comes looking for them. Here at the WCHS, our claim rate is higher – a whopping 8 percent. Yay? I’m glad we beat the national average, but here are our numbers from 2014: We took in 297 stray cats and of those, 24 were claimed. 24. No one showed up for 273 cats. We’ve even had cats who clearly had recently had expensive surgery and no one claims them.

But let’s not forget that most lost cats never even make it to a shelter. Cats are more often reunited with their owners without ever having been picked up as a “stray”. The ASPCA did a study of lost animals that made it home, and that number is much more reassuring – 85 percent of lost animals were reunited with their owners. Cats still get the short end of that stick – 74 percent made it home, while 93 percent of dogs made it home. Interestingly enough, owner demographics did not affect that return rate. Rich or poor, most animals make it home.

The most interesting factoid, in my opinion, is that cat owners tend to wait about three days before they start looking for their missing cat, while owners search for dogs right away. To quote Dr. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA, “Cats come home, dogs are sought”. This speaks loudly to how differently we view these two domesticated pets. Even leash laws and state licensing reflect just how differently we treat dogs and cats.

What would you do if you saw an unknown dog in your yard? You’d probably find that unusual, you might call your animal control officer, even in some of our most rural towns. But you see a cat and you might not even think twice. You probably don’t call your animal control officer. If you do, they may tell you to leave the cat, it will most likely make its way home, and they would be right – three quarters of them do make it home. And of those, most of them make it home on their own (59 percent), while 30 percent are found during neighborhood searches. Some of them are already living the life of Riley in a neighbor’s home, caviar at night and a new bed. So you begin to see why we are so surprised when someone actually comes to claim a cat. Which brings us back to Willow.

When his family came to get him, they told us they were from Keene, NH. Really?? Did this 14-year-old cat hitch a ride? Probably an unwitting one. Willow lives on a main street in Keene, and this is the second time he has gone AWOL. The first time, a neighbor assumed he was a stray and took him in. Our assumption is that Willow’s second grand adventure happened in a similar way – someone saw him on his street in Keene, assumed he was a stray, or maybe just thought he was cute, picked him up and brought him home to Brattleboro, where our local Animal Control Officer, Cathy Barrows, brought him to us. Was he happy living in Brattleboro or did he escape his captors in an attempt to get home? Either way, it really is something of a miracle that Willow made it home not once, but twice. This cat should buy a lottery ticket, he is really beating the odds.

Not surprisingly, the claim rate for dogs is higher, both nationally (10-30 percent) and in our experience, but still not as high as one might expect. But that is a story for another day.

To see what Dr. Weiss had to say on the subject, and for a link to her research, visit the ASPCA Pro website


All in a days work

You never know what a spay/neuter clinic day will bring. It is always busy, always gratifying, and sometimes surprising. Which is what it was at our most recent clinic – surprising. Let me set the backdrop for you – we work with an amazing veterinarian, Dr. Sara White, to offer low-cost spay/neuter clinics in our county twice a month. Dr. White runs her own non-profit, Spay ASAP, and her mission is to end pet overpopulation in the state of Vermont. Not only is she an incredibly skilled surgeon, she is a cat whisperer and a true humanitarian.

Which is why we were so grateful it was her hand wielding the surgical instruments last week – skill and compassion were exactly what we needed. It had been a challenging clinic already – six very large dogs were up first for surgery, which meant the team started on the cats in the early afternoon – much later than usual. We had also had to reschedule this clinic thanks to (non-event) Storm Juno, which meant Dr. White did not have her trusty sidekick with her, veterinary technician, Jen.

I love to stick my head in the conference room on spay/neuter day, and not just because my sweetie volunteers to help vaccinate, clean ears, trim nails and help animals come out from under the anesthesia. But also because it is fun to watch this well-oiled machine perform one of the most important services we offer – low cost spay neuter. On a busy day, we will spay and neuter over 40 animals.

I knew something was off when I checked in on the clinic. Typically, every one of the team, staff and volunteers, is busy, moving, occupied, sometimes barely keeping up with the flow of animals coming from the surgery table. But the only one engrossed in a task was Dr. White.

“What’s up?” I asked.

I’m going to spare you too much detail here, but Keri, one of our veterinary technicians and our most senior staff person (13 years at WCHS!) explained that the cat on the surgery table, Zoey, had experienced a rare problem, a rupture of the uterus. It appeared that this had happened any-where from three days to a week before.

Suffice it to say, it was a mess in there and there was, of course, widespread infection, and this kitty was lucky to be alive… and lucky to have come into our clinic… and lucky to have Dr. White be her surgeon. Even if Zoey had ended up at the world’s best veterinary clinic, this would have been a very expensive surgery, and the decision to euthanize Zoey rather than spend thousands on her might very well have been the outcome. Not every pet owner can spend that kind of money to save their pet in this kind of unexpected emergency situation.

But Dr. White just quietly went to work repairing the damage, while the team watched and waited. It set the clinic back a good hour while Dr. White took care of Zoey, but everyone was invested in a successful outcome and willing to stay late to get the job done and get to the other animals waiting for surgery. Volunteers and staff who typically are cleaning up at 3 p.m. were still working at 5. But there was no complaining, just a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in a job well done, in another life saved.

Just another reason to love my job and the wonderful people I get to work with.