Please read this article before you buy a child a pet.
Car lights bounce off dark corners of empty downtown streets illuminating the fearful and desperate eyes. You see them huddled together at times in gloomy alleys under piles of cardboard boxes and discarded newspapers. Dirty and matted, they are often mistaken for just another pile of trash. They are more prevalent in populated areas where wasted food overflows the garbage cans of the greedy. They are left scavenging for food as their only means of survival and yet they are still ignored. Their stories are left untold. They have incredible stories of survival, love, and even loss, as these homeless are left alone to survive. On occasion, you may hear a bark, whimper, or a sad moan as they wait for a rescue that may never come.
Denver- When the topic of “homelessness” is mentioned most of the attention is focused on humans; However homelessness stems far deeper than that. In fact, our four-legged friends suffer on the streets every day. With amazing organizations such as Dumb Friends League, the Denver Animal Shelter, and those who care, the city of Denver is stepping up together to find homes for the thousands of homeless pets who run the streets each year.
Aubrey Klungtvedt has a love for animals and works at Pets on Broadway, a veterinary hospital, offering grooming and boarding as well as a dentistry and surgical facility.
“We do have quite a few strays brought into our hospital.” Klungtvedt said.
Most of the animals brought to them have tags or microchips and the owners are located. Unfortunately, the pets with no owner information are kept in boarding while they send out alerts on flyers to locate the owner.
“It is extremely important to update your pet’s microchips as needed. As families tend to move and their information is no longer relevant.”
But at Pets on Broadway simply sending out flyers is not enough.
“We drive around the areas near our hospital looking for flyers as well. If no one ever claims the dog we either find a good home for it, or find a good foster parent from one of the many rescues we work with.” she said.
Aubrey has seen neglected, stray dogs come into the hospital with their fur so messy, they were unrecognizable. They had nails like daggers, bad eyes and their bodies were covered with lumps.
“It is just so sad that these poor, innocent souls are in such bad shape and are found running the streets, terrified as hell. Those few in bad shape were brought back to good health and found good homes and all ended well, luckily!”
“The most moving things I have seen are the care and dedication our staff gives these lost pets. We make them feel safe and comfortable.”
Aubrey says that she becomes attached to some of these dogs making it hard to say goodbye when they find their “forever homes,” but also finds it touching to see them go off to a good rest of their lives.
The staff at Pets on Broadway is so dedicated to saving lives they even donate their own money to help with surgeries on homeless animals.
“There is one we recently had brought in, (a little female Chihuahua), that has a mammary gland tumor. I fell in love with her, but because I already have 3 dogs, I could not keep her. We got her into a foster home, with one of our rescues and I am now donating some of my own money to have her tumor removed. It is such a good feeling to know I can help in that way!”
“I would just like to add that if someone does not want to care for their pet anymore, or cannot afford treatment, please call a local shelter, veterinary hospital or rescue organization. Most all of these places will take a stray and help in any way they can. Letting them run the streets leads to nothing but heartache!” Aubrey says.
Kayla Adams, the Education Programs coordinator at the Dumb Friends League, reports that Colorado saves almost 87% of all homeless pets, a model for the nation.
“Throughout metro Denver, more than 25 animal welfare organizations collaborate as the Metro Denver Shelter Alliance to achieve this goal. We can achieve more through collaboration rather than divisiveness. We are proud to say that we save more pets’ lives than any other shelter in the country our size.” Adams said
Dumb Friends League, or DFL, pioneered many of the solutions proposed by the “no-kill” movement, and shares its goal of saving 90% or more of the homeless pets that enter their doors.
Unfortunately, a majority of pets brought to DFL are by previous owners for a variety of reasons and approximately 1% of animals are brought in because they are the result of seizures from bad owners who abused or neglected them.
DFL, as do other shelters, objects to the “no-kill” label. Employees say the dubious label divides shelters and people from focusing on the issues at hand and saving as many animals lives as possible.
Their current live release rate is 91%. This means the agency adopts out or places pets with partners in the area. Euthanasia only occurs if the animal is suffering.
“This is the only way we can be an open-admissions shelter and let in all animals regardless of health, age, behavior, or history.” Adams says.
Last fiscal year, DFL got an astonishing 14,120 pets adopted into “forever homes, reunited 2,113 lost pets with their owners, and placed 652 animals with local partner shelters.
DFL provides these homeless animals with a loving and safe environment with state of the art health care, daily enrichment, such as walks, and interactive toys, behavior training, and plenty of socialization. These well-fed animals also receive a personalized diet donated by Hill’s Science Diet.
On the other side of town, The Denver Animal Shelter (DAS), like Dumb Friends League, is part of the Metro Denver Shelter Alliance. The new facility opened in June 2011. It has a full-time vet staff which performs services in house for their animals.
With more than 8,000 homeless animals coming through DAS each year, it is proud to say they have a 90% live release rate; the shelter goes above and beyond to save every animal in their care.
Andy Rees, the Marketing and Outreach Coordinator at DAS said, “Every animal is individually assessed based on health and behavior-never on time or space.”
DAS works with nearly 100 different rescue partners to help animals with special needs that might not qualify for general adoptions.
Unlike Dumb Friends League, DAS sees more strays come to their shelter than owner surrenders.
“Strays and owner surrenders can come in over the counter during business hours or through our night drop which is available after hours.”
Although DAS has an excellent live release rate, some animals have been neglected to the point of no return. Rees mentioned DAS recently took in several neglected and malnourished poodles living in a one-bedroom apartment. Though the shelter was able to save and adopt out most of the animals, one poodle was beyond rescue and unfortunately, died at the shelter. This is just one of many cases where help did not reach the animal in time.
But finding a home for a pet can include even those with the most hardened of exteriors. On October 17, 1997, Mariana Enriquez, a Program Evaluation Consultant, was driving next to the Denver University campus when she noticed something crossing the street in front of her. She slammed on her breaks and jumped out of the car to approach it. To her surprise, it was a turtle. She picked the turtle up and took it home to keep it safe. Her husband insisted on keeping the turtle while keeping an eye out on campus for any missing turtle notices. There were none so they adopted him. Tito, the worm-loving, papaya-eating, sweet potato-scarfing turtle, has had the “plod” of their house ever since.
“I saved him.” said Mariana.
Tito was slightly malnourished as a baby turtle. The top of his head was a bit concave but so much so that he cannot fit completely inside of his shell as he should as a box turtle. Tito lives in a big fish tank that he can get in and out of as he pleases. Inside, there are towels and a basking light keeping a tray of warm water ready for him to bath in. Mariana nursed him back to health.
“Sometimes he stays in the water tray for two seconds, other times, two hours.” she says.
Today, Tito spends his days discovering new hiding places throughout their home, attacking his reflection in the mirror and spending time cuddling in his momma’s lap. No matter where he is hiding in the house, when Mariana calls his name, he will come crawling over to her.
“He’s the perfect guy for me. He loves being home with momma. He’s a happy guy!” Mariana says with a smile.
If it was not for Mariana’s kind and generous spirit, Tito’s fate could have been much worse. He most likely would have spent his days continuously searching for shelter and food in a nearby park, and fighting off not only animal predators, but human predators as well. Tito was lucky enough to find his “forever home” in which he is loved and nurtured every day.
Animal homelessness is a serious issue in Colorado but with the help of organizations such as the Metro Denver Shelter Alliance, Dumb Friends League, Denver Animal Shelter, and good-natured citizens such as Mariana and Aubrey, we are coming together as a community to find homes and fight for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Kids-You can’t beat ‘em”, was one of the first logos in 1983, when President Reagan proclaimed April to be the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I love the dual meaning of this statement. We can’t be physically aggressive with kids. But equally as important, is the message that there is special value in children. Thirty years later, we continue to promote the value of our children and their families, as well as the fact that every member of the community has a responsibility to help prevent child abuse and neglect.
Preventing child abuse and neglect can sound like an overwhelming task, but it really comes down to some basic things that we all can do to help strengthen families. Research shows that there are five protective factors that help strengthen families. These factors act like buffers to stress and increase the health and well-being of children and families.
The Protective Factors are:
Concrete Supports for Parents
Social Connections and Emotional Competence
Knowledge of Parenting and of Child/Youth Development
Nurturing and Attachment
Denver Human Services did a great campaign this year for April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month that makes it easy to remember the protective factors. It is entitled 5 Ways to Keep Families Stable, Help Kids Thrive and Uphold a Strong Community:
1.) Call for Help!
2.) Surround Yourselves with Friends and Family
3.) Be a Bounce Back Family
4.) Become a Parenting Ace
5.) Help Children Express Themselves
Concrete Supports for Parents, also known as supports for basic needs, is the first protective factor that needs to be addressed. Families need to have their basic needs meet before they can focus on the other factors that will strengthen them. Find these concrete supports for your own family and help other families locate them as well. You can locate these supports within your community in a variety of ways, including local non-profits (such as the Family Support Line at Families First), faith based communities and social service agencies. These groups and agencies will partner with parents to help identify and access resources in the community such as food, clothing, housing, quality childcare, health and dental care, social-emotional services, and variety of other resources.
Another factor is Social Connections and Emotional Competence. This boils down to surrounding yourself and your children with friends and family. It is very important for both adults and children to have Social Connections. When adults have social connections they are modeling for the children around them how to interact with others and their world. The same is true for emotional competence, when we as grown-ups work on our own emotional health; we are modeling emotional wellness for our children. If you do not have supportive friends and family, consider neighbors, spiritual groups, the local child/parent play group, or your child’s school. There are a variety of places to find connections for yourself and your child. If you or another adult you know does not have a support system, consider joining a Parent Support Group. Families First offers Circle of Parents ® Support groups and can also connect you with other support groups across the state.
Parental Resilience is the ability to cope with stresses, both the day-to-day stresses, as well as the occasional crisis. This is sometimes described as being a “bounce back” person or family. Are you able to bounce back when things get tough? The other two Protective Factors we had mentioned, Concrete Support and Social Connections, can both help to increase a person’s resilience. Having someone that can help you talk through a stress increases the chance a person will bounce back from the stress.
The protective factor, Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development is becoming informed as a parent about ways to communicate with your child, set rules and expectations, and provide safe opportunities that promote independence. These things need to be done while taking the child’s current development into consideration. Healthy child development and effective parenting are connected. If you would like to learn more about effective parenting or child development consider attending a parenting class or support group.
The final protective factor is Nurturing and Attachment, last, but not least by any means! In fact, most times this is the first factor listed due to the importance of nurturing and attachment. A child’s early experience of being loved and cared for by a safe, reliable adult has an effect on all aspects of their life. It will determine how they treat others and how they allow others to treat them as they grow into adulthood. Nurturing and attachment are crucial not just when a child is young, but throughout their lives. This can set the stage for the other factors to develop.
These five factors are not only good for the parent-child relationship, but they help to decrease stress on an individual level, as well as a community level. If individuals are less stressed, then their relationships will be less stressed, which will produce a less stressed community as a whole. Pick one factor and work on fine-tuning it to increase your protection against stress.
Don’t know where to find the resources, social supports, parenting classes? Need someone to listen when you are stressed or a place to Brainstorm ideas? Call Families First at 877-695-7996 or email us at stacy@FamiliesFirstColorado.org. We would love to help you tackle a protective factor!
We also have a Spanish Family Support Line at 866-527-3264 or maria@FamiliesFirstColroado.orgFacebook at Families First Colorado