Purrs, barks and oinks tell tales

Published 7:58 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, donkeys, and snakes have found safe harbor, and been cuddled and loved at the Pearl River County Society for Prevention to Animals. Well, perhaps the 12 foot python didn’t get cuddled, but a foster home was quickly found for it.

“One thing I want people to know,” volunteer director Maria Diamond said, “is that we find homes for these animals. People think that if an animal is brought in and a home can’t be found we put them down. That just isn’t true. We had one cat for almost a year before we found it a home.”

Diamond is passionate about animals, and she has four cats of her own. She’s also one of the board members so, according to the bylaws, she doesn’t get paid. That takes dedication.

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“We have such a good program for spaying and neutering,” she explained. “We have a grant that helps with the cost: cats are $10 for neuter and $20 for spaying; dogs are $30 for neutering and $40 for spaying. It’s really affordable.

“We don’t want anyone to think they can’t get their pet spayed or neutered because they can’t afford it. With our program, they can.

“Some people think their pet has a behavior problem when that may not be it at all. Their pet may be spraying or yowling all night, or maybe constantly getting out of the yard. The owners think the pet just won’t behave well. But, when a dog or cat is spayed or neutered, then those problems usually go away.

“A cat will stay in heat until she gets pregnant. It might go away for a day or two, but it comes right back. And they start having kittens when they are six months old. It’s kittens having kittens.”

Since cats can have anywhere from two to four kittens in a litter, and they can have three litters a year, an owner with two cats could conceivably have 67 cats at the end of two years if they don’t spay their pets.

“When people bring in their pets, we always talk to them about why they are bringing in the animal,” Diamond expounded on SPCA’s procedures.

Neutering if it is male and spaying if it is female is always recommended first. Even if that isn’t why the animal was brought in, they try to find out everything they can about the animal. If it’s sick, if the owner has too many and just can’t afford the food and litter, or if it just showed up on a door step the animal’s problems are assessed so proper treatment and care can be provided.

“I don’t understand why people just come by at night and leave an animal in one of the carriers outside,” Diamond expressed her concern. “Some have said they don’t want the hassle. The problem with that is we don’t know anything about the animal, and when we don’t know about it, it makes it hard to find it a home. That is what people need to know. It is much more likely that we will find an animal a home quickly if we have its history.

“Other people think we make them pay for bringing an animal in, and that just isn’t true. We never make anyone pay for bringing in an animal for our care.”

She adds that it would help a lot if they knew the animal was sick, or if it had bitten someone. Temperament plays a huge role in whether an animal is adopted quickly or not. If the animal is feral, sometimes there is no way to find it a home and it will have to be euthanized. Most older wild animals are too fractious to be tamed for pets. Diamond indicated there’s hope for the babies.

Once the history is ascertained, then the animal is put in isolation. Because it’s that time of year, numerous cats have come in and there’s not much room in isolation, just one empty cage, but only one puppy which was deposited in one of the carriers outside the shelter at 11 p.m. Tuesday night.

“Give it 30 minutes,” Diamond laughs. “We’ll have one or two in there soon.”

Isolation observation is necessary so that disease won’t be spread from one animal to another. Each cat is tested for feline leukemia and for feline A.I.D.S. Once those tests come back negative, and there is no other illness such as heart worms or kennel fever in dogs, the animals are put in with the rest of the population after they are given their shots. Each animal is wormed and treated for any pest infestations while in isolation. That way, the spread of disease is vastly reduced. Cats are social creatures and get lonely in isolation. When they are moved into company, they perk right up.

“Some cats love other cats and some can’t stand other cats. We carefully place them so they’ll settle down,” Diamond explained. Then she pointed to an orange striped cat of about 18 pounds, lolling in his cage. “That’s One-Eyed Jack. You can see how stressed out our animals are,” she laughed, and the cat lazily opened his eye. “One-Eyed Jack was picked up in Hide-A-Way and he only has one eye. He’s big, but he’s a sweety and loves people.”

The rest of the cats were either napping or playing. One stretched out a paw and played with a sleeve. Each exhibited an attitude far from stress or depression.

“If one of the animals starts going into depression,” Diamond added, “we work really hard to bring them out of it. We can tell if it’s depressed because they get lethargic and stay at the back at the cage.

“You can see it in their face,” said Debbie, an employee, while she cleaned a cage.

“Our volunteers come in and snuggle the cats, petting and grooming them. This socializes them so they aren’t afraid of people,” Diamond pointed to a girl sitting in a rocking chair brushing a cat. “This is Breana, and she’s snuggling Bandit.”

This is one reason the cats are in such good spirits. Volunteers come in daily to cuddle and brush each cat. While visitors are encouraged not to pet one animal and then another, and another because this could spread disease or infection, volunteers handle just one animal at a time. The brushes are thoroughly cleaned before use on another animal.

“Every cat in here has had an upper respitory infection. It’s airborne so one sneeze and everyone comes down with it. Tasha is the most recent. She hasn’t been feeling well at all.” Diamond indicated a young, gray-striped tabby with a sweet face. “We feed them Science Diet constantly. They are healthy when we find them homes.”

“Put that one in with the black one,” Diamond told a worker passing by with a threadbare kitten. She watched a little girl leave crying, then said. “I’m so proud of the people that are responsible enough to know when they can’t afford another pet. So many people leave them beside the road thinking some kind farmer will come along and take the animal home. What they don’t realize is these puppies and kittens usually wind up ripped to shreds and food for predators. And those people who sit in Walmart’s parking lot with a litter of babies and signs that say ‘Free Kittens’ or ‘Free Puppies’ don’t realize that some very unscrupulous people will take them home to feed to their pet snake or to train their pit bulls for fighting. With the free ones, there’s no value with free. The kids toss them around all summer, and use them as a disposable toy. If it dies, so what, it was free.”

She shook her head and lowered her voice, “At least when we have to put one down, they get a gentle shot and go to sleep and are not ripped apart by some pit bull or a predator like a coyote. There are a lot worse things that can happen to an animal than being euthanized.”

Diamond added that the SPCA is a county entity and is required by law to take in any animal that is brought there regardless of its condition or kind. They would much rather take in the animals than for them to be dropped off on the side of the road. One morning the dogs set up a commotion and Diamond checked the carriers outside and found a pot belly pig which was so big it completely filled up the carrier. She brought it in and put it in isolation. Other animals may be very sick or so feral they can’t be touched or handled. Those are the ones that get put down.

The SPCA desperately needs a new shelter. They have run out of places to put cages. There is no kitchen where employees can eat. But, they do have a plan.

Shelter Builders of America has drawn up some plans for a new shelter with plenty of space, with the correct drainage and sinks. The hold up is there is no property. Katrina has made real estate escalate out of reach, and they must be on city sewage, not a septic tank. A real estate agent has donated her time to search for property for them.

The population of Pearl River County has boomed, but the number of animals coming into the shelter has remained steady, around 5,000 per year. Diamond believes this is because of the aggressive spaying and neutering program.

The second greatest need SPCA has is to increase adoptions. If you are thinking about a pet, Diamond invites you to come tour the shelter and look for your pet at SPCA. One of them just might stretch out a paw and grab your heart, or look at you with such a happy expectancy with their toy in their mouth, tail wagging, that you just fall in love instantly.

If you don’t need a pet, but want to volunteer, more volunteers are needed and welcomed, Diamond says. You can join the SPCA. The club meets at 7:30 p.m. the third Thursday of the month. Members help with many functions including doing cruelty to animal investigations in Pearl River County, and file charges when necessary. They conduct classes on pet care and welfare at local schools, and lobby for stricter animal welfare laws. They also take pets to the nursing home. Visit www.prcspca.org.