Sticky the Kitty survived a baffling act of cruelty. And then he changed his rescuers’ lives. Now he’s changing lives around the globe.
Marketing/PR professional Shannon Priem of Salem says her first word as a child wasn’t “mommy” or “daddy,” but “kitty.”
Priem works part-time in marketing for Salem Health, and been a board member of the Willamette Humane Society for 10 years. While both roles gave her plenty to do, five years ago the lifelong animal lover was inspired to do more.
“Our pet policy had gotten relaxed over the years” says Priem, “so patients brought all kinds of pets to their hospital rooms — including, on one occasion, a duck in a diaper.” This eventually took its toll on staff. “Nurses were changing litterboxes,” she says. That changed in 2013, when a new policy prohibited pets on the hospital campus “except service or therapy animals.”
The impact of the new policy on patients coming into the ER was quickly apparent to both Priem and security staff; patients frequently brought dogs with them to the ER, or panicked when they realized pets were left at home. “It didn’t take long to realize they might go AWOL (leave the hospital against medical advice) because they were more worried about their pet than their own health.”
Many patients in this type of scenario are older with little or no family or support, homeless, or otherwise struggling with slim resources, if any.
“Usually in cases like these,” Priem says, “good samaritans working at the hospital would say, ‘Okay, I’ll take care of the pet.’” The problem was, caring for animals took time and energy that staff needed to focus on patient care.
Bothered by the dilemma, Priem approached administration with an idea: “What if I could be your ace in the hole — your secret service on call, day or night to help?” Given the go-ahead, she brainstormed with security staff and soon began FETCH, Fido’s Emergency Team for Caring Hospitals.
“I look at it as, ‘if it’s got a heartbeat, we’ll care for them.’ They’re human. If that means caring for their dog or cat, then that’s what we’ll do,” says Priem. A gift from the Salem Health Foundation enabled FETCH to partner with the Willamette Humane Society for emergency boarding, helping even more animals.
Today, FETCH has a handful of stalwart volunteers — including some hospital staff — who will come day or night to take a pet, and five on call. Those who help or have helped range in age from teens to over 70.
FETCH is always “on call” for hospital care managers or social workers who typically help patients with limited resources with things like finding a skilled nursing facility, transportation home, etc. The group also works with hospital security staff.
The need arises frequently — nowadays averaging two calls per week. Priem has many stories about the cases she’s handled — FETCH has cared for more than 110 animals since 2013, helping keep families together. “I’m not one to brag, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my FETCH team saved a couple of lives here and there,” she says.
She tells of one patient who arrived at the ER needing but refusing life-saving care when staff moved to take her dog. She said, “If I can’t have Jonathon with me, I can’t go on living.”
Staff got Jonathan into her hospital room to wait for her after surgery. ”His little nose was pressed against a crack in the door for an hour; he knew she was coming,” says Priem. “When she arrived, he hopped in her bed to lick her face, and she soon went back to sleep. From that second, I knew we needed FETCH.”
Another story tells of a gentleman with a life-threatening infection who’d put up his dog in a motel and then walked several miles to the ER. A long-haul driver, after receiving help — for himself and his dog —told Priem, “You don’t even know me, and you rescued my dog from a motel.” The grateful gentleman said he was going to look into helping others this way when he got home.
Felix, a 25-pound cat, was left behind in a mobile home. Unable to care for or even lift him, the owner agreed to surrender him for rehoming. “Please find him a good home,” she begged Priem, who said there were three holds on Felix at WHS by prospective adoptive families the first day. Ultimately he was adopted by a counselor, and is reportedly now helping her with grief counseling.
Still another case was a woman who had been homeless for eight years. She had three old dogs who themselves needed medical care. With the help of WHS, the dogs got better. The woman also got better, then found a job and an apartment. “This is a woman who was on the streets for eight years, often going without food so she could feed her dogs!” Priem repeats, still overjoyed with the outcome.
Other cases underscore the value of FETCH to not only the humans it serves, but the pets.
One gentleman came in, leaving behind two Rottweiler/Pit mixes, which were ultimately surrendered to WHS.
“Ozzie was dangerous,” says Priem. “The best trainers at WHS worked with him for 10 months. They didn’t give up. We all saw a special light in his eyes, but there were times . . . I’d get ‘the call’ that he might not make it.
“Then one day it all just clicked, and Ozzie was a different dog. Shortly after, a veteran who had just lost his therapy dog came to WHS. Ozzie walked right up to him. The shelter staff told him, ‘He is your dog!’”
The partnership with WHS is vital to the success of FETCH. “At the drop of a hat an animal can get care and boarding at the shelter, while being in the protective custody of the Salem Health Foundation,” says Priem. “I’ll call and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got two Yorkies.’ They’ll ask if they need vaccinations; I’ll say yes, and they’ll say, ‘Bring them in.’”
“We’ve had pets at WHS for weeks at a time, belonging mostly to people facing health emergencies. But also who are homelessness, elderly, or have no family support.
FETCH is strictly a private venture. Because volunteers go into unknown, potentially dangerous situations, Priem understands that for now, due to liability issues, it shouldn’t be a formal hospital service. “We assume all personal liability because the need is there, and worth the risk,” she says. Starting with zero resources, Priem has created legal forms dealing with permissions, liabilities, and the like. She says the partnership between WHS and the Salem Health Foundation is invaluable. “They both fill a critical gap, because you can’t board a pet without current vaccines, and thanks to the foundation, we get that done quickly so our patients get peace of mind . . . and can heal.”
”Word of mouth has increased our work, which means staff really need us,” she says. “They really care about our patients, so I’ve become their hidden asset!” If the need continues to grow, she says she hopes FETCH will become a more formalized hospital program.
For now, “A case manager [from the hospital] will call — I know there’s a pet in need just by the phone number — and I have forms for patients to sign so I can go feed the pet at home, or do whatever’s needed.”
Priem welcomes anyone interested in starting a program like FETCH in their community to contact her, and to use her forms. Volunteers are also needed to help with anything from feeding or fostering cats and dogs in their homes to donations of pet food and funds, which can be made to the Salem Health Foundation. Contact Priem at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her pups, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund released a statement applauding the 218 Representatives — constituting a majority of the US House — who have signed on as sponsors and cosponsors of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to bring an end to the export and slaughter of American equines for human consumption. With broad bipartisan support, the bill aims to protect our nation’s equines from the cruel and predatory horse slaughter industry, which is opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans, enriches a tiny handful of profiteers and places all equine companions at risk.
“We commend these federal legislators who have taken a stand with most Americans who view our horses as partners in work, recreation and sport, and as cultural icons for the crucial role they’ve played in our nation’s history,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the HSUS. “With a bipartisan majority supporting the bill, we urge House leadership to put the SAFE Act on the suspension calendar for a vote soon, and the Senate to follow suit.”
Keeping cats and wildlife safe — in style
We love our feline companions. So much so that it’s easy to forget they are natural predators, and those hunter instincts have can deadly consequences for other feathered and furry creatures in the neighborhood.
The Portland-area Audubon Society reports that nearly half of the injured wildlife cases brought to its welfare centers involve cat-related injuries. To help address this issue, the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, Portland Audubon Society, and Portland-area humane societies and animal shelters partner in an annual Catio Tour.
Now in its 6th year, the Catio Tour is a tour of homes showcasing enclosures created to provide safe spaces for cats to enjoy much-needed outdoor time while protecting wildlife and songbirds.
“We’re not saying keep your cat indoors,” insists FCCO Executive Director Karen Kraus. The goal of the Catio Tour is to inspire people to build their own catio. Protected outdoor spaces for cats, Kraus says, are a win-win. Catios protect pets from cars, birds of prey, and coyotes. Kraus points out that cats can also be preyed upon.
Catio tours are still a new idea, Kraus says, but similar events have caught on in other communities such as Seattle and Santa Cruz. The first year of the tour in Portland, organizers didn’t know what to expect. But signups were overwhelming, and this year’s tour will have about a thousand attendees viewing around a dozen Catios. “Many people try to see them all,” Kraus says, while some opt to visit select properties.
Kraus hopes the biggest takeaway from the self-guided tour is that it doesn’t take a lot of money to create appropriate outdoor experiences for family cats. The goal is to inspire people to build their own backyard feline spaces.
Catio budgets range “from frugal to fabulous, DIY to designer,” Kraus says. “If you don’t have a lot of money you can build a catio.” Some are elaborate, with elevated areas and diverse sources of stimuli. Others are simple, chicken coop-like structures on a back porch.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive,” Kraus assures. “This is stuff you can do at home. Whatever you can envision you can afford.” Almost all catios are built from supplies available at most hardware, garden or farm-supply outlets.
The Catio Tour is a natural for a community that cares about nature and the environment. Kraus hopes attendees will come away from the tour with the feeling that anyone can help cats and wildlife share a better balance. “All of us play a role in this,” she says.
Portland Catio Tour * Saturday, Sept 8 * $10; benefits FCCO * feralcats.com.
William Kennedy is a freelance writer who lives with his wife and daughter in downtown Eugene, Oregon. He's had many furry friends in his lifetime. Currently, he's tolerated by a black cat named Midnight.
Life can deal harsh, unexpected blows. Events like job loss, a serious medical diagnosis, or divorce can turn a person or family’s life upside-down, often straining financial resources in the process. Anyone struggling to keep home, family, and life together well knows that when we feel most vulnerable, we want our pets by our side.
Petlandia is not only passionate about pets, but demonstrably committed to keeping pets and their people fed, healthy, and together. Fortunately for those in need, innovative, local nonprofits are there to help. You can help, too: next time you are at the pet store, consider buying an extra bag for one of the organizations below. To go even further, get another to keep in your car — chances are good while driving around town you’ll encounter someone who could use it.
Knowing that tens of thousands of people struggle to feed themselves and their pets, the Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank’s primary focus is fighting animal hunger to help keep families and pets together and reduce shelter populations. This can be life-saving for humans and animals alike. One client shared that when her life went to pieces, if she’d been forced to give up her dog she might have also given up on life.
In addition to serving more than 10,000,000 meals to date, the Pongo Fund introduced Pongo One this year, a state-of-the-art mobile veterinary hospital providing free care for the pets of very low-income and homeless people, including seniors, veterans, and more.
In Clackamas County, the FIDO Pet Food Bank distributes food for dogs and cats and works with other agencies to deliver pet food to homebound seniors as well.
House-bound senior citizens often rely on Meals on Wheels America for meals, regular check-ins, and social interaction. In the past, workers discovered hungry seniors were giving up substantial parts of their own meals to feed their pets. Now, seniors with pets can request pet food along with their own meals.
In Washington County, the Cat Adoption Team partners with Meals on Wheels to deliver pet food to homebound clients.
Hope and Care
When families struggle just to keep everyone fed, an unexpected medical bill can be catastrophic. Routine care, which can prevent big vet bills later in a pet’s life, isn’t always an option.
Good Neighbor Vet answers this need with clinics at partner businesses like pet supply stores and neighborhood retail outlets. Affordable rates for products and services and no-appointment-needed clinics held on weekends make it accessible to some who might not otherwise be able to find time while juggling work and family to get to the vet.
PAW Team works to bring life-saving care and medicine to pets of people experiencing homelessness and poverty. Clients include the terminally ill, disenfranchised youth, and military veterans.
Animal Aid is a broad-reaching organization with deep roots in the community. In addition to operating a shelter for homeless animals, the organization partners with PAW Team to spay and neuter pets through the C-SNIP program, and operates a Care Fund for emergency veterinary assistance in partnership with Portland veterinary clinics.
Keeping Families Intact
JOIN helped nearly a thousand local people last year transition from the streets to safe housing. The organization collects pet food and supplies so people can care for their animals while rebuilding their lives.
The Pixie Project is well known for its work in pet rescue and adoption. But the organization also works to keep pets in their homes by providing food, medical care, medications, and spay/neuter surgeries.
A Portland native, Kennedy Morgan, has been around dogs her entire life - from the multitude of strays near the country home of her youth to the crew she calls her own now. Vegas, her retired agility superstar (Great Dane) has been her primary inspiration for all things dog in the last decade, including her passion for writing.
Q: My neighbor moved but left his dog behind. The dog has been with us for months. Could the neighbor claim the dog as his if he returns?
First, a big thank you for stepping up and caring for this abandoned dog. If you hadn’t intervened, the dog might not be alive today. Generally, a person who abandons his dog and moves away loses the right to his “property.” That’s right — in the United States legal system, and most legal systems around the world, animals are classified as property.
It may come as a surprise that animals are still categorized as property considering that science and commonsense tell us our companion animals are individuals with unique personalities. Most of us consider them to be members of our families. I doubt you would be as worried that your neglectful neighbor might one day want his couch back.
Abandoning an animal is a crime under most states’ cruelty laws. While animals are still considered property, the law is slowly changing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund recently filed a groundbreaking lawsuit on behalf of an Oregon horse named Justice that challenges animals’ status as property and argues that animals have the legal right to sue their abusers in court. Advances are also happening in the area of companion animal custody.
Recognizing the profound bond people develop with their companion animals, some judges are approaching companion animal custody cases much differently than they would disputes about a car or TV. Judges are increasingly considering which home is in the best interests of a dog or cat rather than approaching the case from a strict property analysis.
Your situation is much more straightforward. If your neighbor hadn’t moved but instead was hospitalized for a long period of time or forced to leave for reasons beyond his or her control, then things might be different. But as stated above, if your neighbor abandoned the dog, then you should be in the clear. Of course, nothing in life is certain. Even if the facts are on your side, someone could still contest custody. If you do find yourself in a dispute, I recommend consulting an attorney to ensure that the dog stays with the person who has stepped up and cared for her — you.
It’s also a good idea to keep records demonstrating that you are now the dog’s caregiver. For example, receipts documenting veterinary care, food, medicine, and toys provided will bolster your case if it comes to that. Licensing and microchipping your new friend under your name is also a smart move.
Thank you again for your compassion. I hope your new best friend has a long and happy life with you!
Elizabeth Holtz works with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, she began rescuing injured and abandoned animals as a very young child, though she admits her mother did much of the work.
We live in a special region. If you love mountains, forests, deserts, rivers, beaches, or the smell of roasting coffee beans, the Northwest is your happy place. But if you’re an animal lover? This is paradise.
Where else but Portland would the city’s largest parade feature a 185-pound English Mastiff as the Canine Grand Marshal? And it wasn’t just Diesel the Mastiff presiding over the Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade — a full royal court of canines bested 20 other finalists in a fierce competition followed by a festive coronation at the Heathman Hotel.
Of course, the canine court on convertibles aren’t our only famous parade pups. The dreamy, cotton-candy-hued Pitties in Pink float makes an appearance at most local parades, too, because we’re a community that puts our bow-legged, jowly-faced pibbles in rosy onesies and tutus for all to adore.
In the Northwest, there’s too much fun to be had — we don’t take life too seriously. And we like to bring our furry family members along for the good times. That’s why the pages of this magazine so often feature our stunning array of pet-friendly hotels and vacation rentals, the pubs where you can bring your pup along for a pint and pizza, and the world’s first dog tap house – Fido’s.
We know how to have a good time. But we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves when there’s a problem to solve or a need to meet.
The Humane Society of the United States consistently ranks Oregon second in the nation for its growing roster of animal-friendly laws and humane-minded lawmakers. (California ranks first.)
Our animal shelters also have some of the highest save rates in the nation, thanks to the organizations that comprise the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland. They’ve dedicated years to a life-saving agenda of high-volume spay/neuter services, adoption promotions, and networking to get all homeless pets the medical, behavioral, and social support to land them in their forever homes.
This is a community where people roll out of bed on Saturday, chug a home-brewed kombucha, grab a locally-roasted coffee, and head out to build a free fence for a chained dog, distribute food to the pets of people experiencing homelessness, or stand on a busy corner gathering signatures for a worthy cause.
We’re different here. And that’s good.
Petlandia, we salute you. The following two articles, we celebrate you — the wacky, wonderful, happy, humane place we call home.
- Michelle Blake
In the ongoing fight against animal cruelty, neglect, overpopulation, and homelessness, Petlandia is a beacon of justice and compassion. Here, we have a long history of passing laws and supporting programs that save lives.
Milestone for Oregon Humane Society
As the region’s oldest animal welfare organization, OHS has been fighting animal cruelty since before Portland had paved streets. This year, as the organization marks its 150th birthday, its Portland shelter achieves some of the highest pet adoption numbers in the western US and supports Oregon’s only dedicated team of animal cruelty investigators.
In 1884 and 1885, when mistreated horses used in farming and transportation were a common concern, OHS helped pass the first statewide humane laws. Legislators signed a law imposing a $100 fine and/or 60 days in jail for “Whoever overdrives, overloads, deprives of necessary sustenance, or cruelly beats” an animal.
Today, OHS Staff Attorney and Investigative Lead Emily Lewis says the region’s animal-friendly laws make Oregon a leader. Senate Bill 6 is a celebrated example, and one of Lewis’ favorites in her seven years at OHS. In that groundbreaking 2013 bill, lawmakers increased penalties for certain crimes against animals. It’s significant, she says, in that it “captures Oregonians’ reverence and respect for animals, acknowledging that they’re sentient, and experience pain, stress, and fear. They’re not just regular evidence in a case.”
Oregon is progressive for adding to the list of violations that are felonies, Lewis continues. “If someone has a prior conviction for certain domestic violence crimes, it can make an animal abuse crime a felony versus a misdemeanor. Also, if committed in front of a minor, that’s acknowledged.”
Lewis says she can’t imagine working in any other part of the country, but even in humane-minded Oregon, there’s always more to do. One example is the Oregon pre-conviction forfeiture law, which lets judges and humane agencies put animals in new homes while their alleged abusers await trial. In the past, shelters sometimes held animals in limbo for months or years while the legal wheels slowly turned. “Almost every year we work to make it stronger and more applicable to the cases and issues we’re seeing,” Lewis says.
At the shelter and on her unique team of law enforcement officers, Lewis says, “We’re always looking to help more.”
Fences for Fido Unleashes a Humane Trend
When a dozen Portland friends teamed up in May 2009 to build a free fenced yard for a dog named Chopper, they unleashed more than a dog. The friendly yellow Lab mix had watched the world go by from the end of a chain because his family couldn’t afford to fence their corner lot.
When news outlets picked up Chopper’s story, urgent pleas to help other dogs flooded in, citing dogs who had languished alone on chains, exposed to the elements, sometimes for many years.
Volunteers — this writer included — recall that the work took on a life of its own. As they formed the Portland-based nonprofit, Fences For Fido, and scrambled to meet the unrelenting need, the momentum seemed to pick them up and run with them.
Less than a decade later, that group of friends has ballooned to several hundred volunteers who’ve unleashed more than 1800 dogs in Oregon and SW Washington. They’ve also helped change Oregon tether laws and inspired others across the country to follow suit.
Oregon House Bill 2783 took effect January 1, 2014, restricting the number of hours a dog could be tethered to a stationary object and clarifies legal requirements for appropriate animal housing, bedding, and care.
In the years since, states and communities across the US have seen a proliferation of 90-plus laws either limiting or fully banning the practice of keeping dogs on chains. Fences For Fido volunteers supported many of those changes, guiding activists, providing sample bill language, and sharing tips through the group’s outreach effort, dubbed “Unchained Planet.”
Multnomah County Folds Up the Circus Tent
Responding to pleas from animal advocates and a flood of testimony and letters from residents, Multnomah County Commissioners voted unanimously July 12 to ban circuses and traveling shows that use exotic animals.
Local resident Andrea Kozil launched the effort in March, approaching Commissioner Sharon Meieran with proposed language for an ordinance. “Wild or exotic animals used in traveling animal displays suffer severe and extended confinement,” Kozil says, and the acts perpetuate the demand for the sale and breeding of the animals. After visiting an exotic animal show to see the practices for herself, Meieran told Kozil she’d champion the ban.
Portland resident Kelly Peterson, who works for the Humane Society of the United States, says her organization counts a total of 137 US communities and four states with similar bans. “I’m so pleased that Multnomah County has been added to such a distinguished list, especially since Oregon continues to be ranked as the second most animal-friendly state in the nation.”
- Michelle Blake
On any given day, Joan Dalton walks with a group along the razor-topped perimeter of MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, Oregon. She’s watchful for opportunities to praise and encourage her dog walkers — a select group of the facility’s incarcerated youth — and the dogs once considered unadoptable.
This is Project POOCH, which Dalton founded while working as vice-principal at MacLaren’s Lord High School. She saw parallels between abandoned dogs and the youth at her school. “Because of how they’ve been treated and the environment in which they were raised, they’ve acted out,” she says. “They are considered dangerous, so they’re locked up.”
Dalton saw hopelessness in too many students. Many had given up on school, most lacked skills or training, and their chances of finding meaningful employment upon returning to the community were low. Knowing the strength of the human/animal bond from research and personal experience, she believed the dogs and youth could help each other.
Her love for animals began when her childhood best friend was a dog named Bugsy. He waited with Dalton for the school bus every morning and met her again each afternoon. They were inseparable.
One traumatic day, Bugsy caught one of the family’s chickens. Her parents took Joan and her siblings inside. Her mother pulled the blinds while her father got his shotgun. Joan knew exactly what this meant. Neither parent spoke a word.
The experience stayed with Dalton. She knew Bugsy wasn’t bad; he just hadn’t known better and had been left unsupervised.
Decades later, pondering ways to help her students earn high school credits, Dalton thought of Bugsy, and the many shelter dogs rejected for their behavior. She formed a vision to rehabilitate such dogs while teaching her students communication, job, and behavioral science skills.
She’d eventually leave her position as vice-principal and take a significant pay cut to head up POOCH, working grueling hours, even selling her house to cover living expenses.
Beginning with one youth and one dog, Project POOCH grew every year, as youth learned patience and accountability, developed caring bonds with dogs, and celebrated as previously unadoptable dogs went to permanent, loving homes. Later, youth would learn additional skills by helping remodel campus areas into a kennel and study area and creating an agility course and a meditation garden.
Over the years Dalton has worked to add more components to the program, including expanding kennels to teach construction skills and bringing in trainers, groomers, and veterinarians to deepen the youths’ knowledge. She brought in K9 officers to show youth different careers working with dogs .
The program became a model far and wide. POOCH graduates have a low recidivism rate, and Dalton has helped participants find employment upon release from MacLaren, realizing one of the program’s early goals. A number of youth have gone on to college with the help of scholarships from donors. The barrier-busting program has been featured in magazines, newscasts, and on Animal Planet. A Japanese film about POOCH airs regularly in Japan.
Now planning to hand over management to a new director, Dalton will be taking her work home with her. [NH1] She’s outfitted her home to provide sanctuary to older POOCH dogs who have never been adopted. Living among retired canines, she will write her memoir about POOCH.
“Hopefully it will raise awareness that everyone deserves a second chance. Whether it is an animal with behavior problems or a person who has been incarcerated, love and hard work can turn a life around,” she says.
POOCH dog Felix: Winning
Eight years ago, Oregon State Penitentiary Assistant Superintendent Michael Yoder called Joan Dalton with an unusual request: he needed a dog to keep geese off the prison recreation yard.
Dalton knew just the dog — Felix. His parentage was a mystery, “So the POOCH youth compared him to photos in dog books and decided he most resembled a Munsterlander.” Experts describe the breed as affectionate, intelligent, and natural hunters that thrive on exercise.
Felix fit the description. Immediately, Dalton says, “he went wild chasing geese. Felix was a bit of a showoff as he demonstrated his skill and intelligence.”
Soon Felix began visiting the infirmary, improving inmate and staff morale. Inmate Michael McNeely, at OSP since Felix arrived, says, “Everybody loves Felix. He’s so smart; he can tell if somebody needs loving. Some people in here never get a visitor, and Felix makes a big difference to them.”
Inmate Steve Johnson handles Felix’s daily care, but others are quick to help. His popularity even pays his expenses: inmates and visitors line up to pay $1 for a photo with him.
And while the geese keep Felix challenged, so far, Felix is winning.
Nancy Hill is a photojournalist currently living in Portland, although she anticipates moving to Salem very soon. As a child, Nancy's family always had a collie. She's continued the love of the breed all her life and now has a collie named Casper.
Reprinted via Valli Parthasarathy, PhD, DVM, ACVB Resident at Synergy Behavior Solutions
The fourth of July can be a time of celebration for many people, but it can also be a time of great fear for our pets. Here are some tips to make this Fourth as stress-free as possible for your pets.
Tip #1: Know what your pet's fear looks like. Fear of fireworks doesn't have to look dramatic. Many very fearful pets will quietly hide or shiver. Others will be more obvious, pacing, panting, vocalizing, or even becoming destructive or pottying in the house. The amount of obvious fear signs don't always correlate with actual fear. A hiding dog may be just as afraid as a panting and pacing dog. They just express that fear differently.
Tip #2: Create a Safe Space. Create a safe area for your pet to be during the fireworks. This can be wherever your pet is most comfortable. Two chairs with a blanket draped over them, a crate, a closet, the basement, or an interior room like a bathroom are some possibilities. Set up the area before fireworks start and do lots of positive things in the area. Feed your pet there, give interactive toys and just generally make it a nice place to be. Make sure that your pet has access to that safe area when the fireworks start.
Think about ways to decrease the sound level of fireworks within the home. Shutting all of the windows tight and running a white noise machine or loud fan can help muffle noises from outside. Mutt Muffs (www.safeandsoundpets.com) and Happy Hoodies (www.happyhoodie.com) are some options that can help reduce that sound level that your pet hears.
Tip #3: Practice Proactive Safety. In the days leading up to July 4th people are often shooting off fireworks. To keep your pets safe, don't allow your dog off-leash, and make sure that their collar or harness is snug so that they can't slip out of it. Potty your dog on leash before it gets dark on these nights, and again if needed after the fireworks are over. Dogs have even escaped fenced yards in their fear. Don't take your dog out during the fireworks themselves. Keep your cat indoors as well. . In fact, the 5th of July is often one of the busiest days for animal shelters as so many dogs become scared and run away from home during the fireworks.
Consider alternate ways to enrich your pet's environment since they may not be spending as much time outdoors. Some options include food puzzle toys, reward-based trick training or dog daycare if your dog is suitable. Keep in mind that there will probably be occasional fireworks after July 4th, so be prepared for that as well.
Tip #4: Avoiding is OK! Many pet owners leave Portland altogether and spend the July 4th weekend in more remote locations around the state. Other tips that clients have shared with us include: staying at a well sound-insulated hotel (such as near the airport) spending the evening in an underground parking garage, or taking a drive to and from Eugene with their pet to avoid the sounds of the fireworks. Our Fourth of July Hideaway is an option as well!
Tip #5: Medications can bring relief. If your pet is very scared during fireworks, speak to your veterinarian (or for Dr. Valli's clients, speak to her!) now about whether situational anti-anxiety medications are an option to help ease this time for your pet.
Fourth of July Hideway
Are you and your dog staying in town for the July 4th holiday? If your dog does not like fireworks, consider Synergy Behavior Solutions' Fourth of July Hideaway. Bring your dog and hang out for the evening in our quiet space and watch movies to boot!The last two years were a great time and they look forward to it again.