As poet Robert Burns put it, the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. In this case, it had more to do with pigs, chickens and veal calves. We were in the middle of our overpopulation series and had posted the first half of the Stewards and Rescues section, but wound up writing and campaigning for Proposition 2. Here, then, after about a month, is the second half of Stewards and Rescues.

Small Dogs, Big Hearts

Louise Montgomery, volunteer for Animal Match Rescue Team (AMRT) and co-founder of It’s A Grind coffee, and real estate investor Jennifer Cloake, advisory board member (and official pooper scooper) of Hearts for Hounds (HFH), are the Laverne and Shirley of the animal world. They revel in a close-to-irreverent sense of humor, necessary in their strong dedication to animal adoption.

“As Bonnie [HFH’s founder] says, we’re a pack of humans trying to make a difference in the dog world,” Cloake said.

HFH and AMRT are nonprofit all-volunteer-run groups approved by Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS). The groups rescue small dogs from overflow at three shelters—Long Beach, Carson and Downey—and from personal surrenders. HFH adopts out 12 to 15 dogs a week, and AMRT does two to three.

“We’re always full,” Cloake said.

Both groups exclusively foster small dogs because they’re easier to place and need less space, so more dogs at any time can be housed and adopted. AMRT concentrates especially on the “unadoptable” dogs with special needs: senior citizen, three-legged, blind, deaf. Special-needs dogs remain with AMRT fosters until someone with a special heart comes along. And they do come. Montgomery told of a woman who adopted a dog with a bent, crooked leg. The dog had apparently been dropped and stepped on. The woman paid a $3,700 vet bill to have the leg corrected and then took the dog home with her. She’s since been back to visit. Both rescuers said that a number of adoptive individuals revisit their Sunday rescues in front of Petco on PCH and Second Street and at the Farmer’s Market at the Marina to show how well their little dogs are doing. Sometimes, they take home little brothers or sisters for their first new best friend. So far, HFH has placed over 12,000 dogs. AMRT has placed around 100 because they don’t have the facilities or foster volunteers that HFH has.

“There’s no such thing as unadoptable,” Montgomery said. “I always tell people to not feel sorry for our special needs dogs—they’ve been rescued [by us] already.”

HFH was founded in 1997 by Bonnie Sheehan, who had given up a high-fashion career to found the organization and rescue dogs who needed “just one more day” at overcrowded shelters. “With the animal overpopulation issue, they are euthanized far too quickly and some never had a chance to find a new home,” Cloake said.

Cloake herself discovered HFH as a kismet experience when she was tuning in her cable station for Buena Park and got Newport Beach instead. Sheehan was on the air giving an interview about the horror of puppy mills, and Cloake was captivated. She contacted Sheehan and immediately became a volunteer.

“The universe directed me,” Cloake said.

Montgomery’s involvement with AMRT was less unworldly; she passed the organization’s founder, Carolyn Stern, dealing with pups and people in front of Petco and felt bad for her. Carolyn was working full time, dealing with health issues of her own and spending any free time she had caring for sick animals or finding the ones that were now healthy permanent homes. Montgomery has been helping out continuously for six years. Because Montgomery and Cloake are dedicated to finding good homes for small dogs and also because of the proximity of their adoption locations, they have a clubby relationship and help each other with their goals.

They’re happy when they meet an obvious match for one of their little dogs, but there are strict rules. In lieu of home visits, which take up time that could be used to rescue more dogs, they conduct at least two interviews with each person; they find that, by talking to people, they can find out what they need to know and catch any fibs that go by. A full application must be filled out and there is a fee of $200–$250 for adopting the dogs, which have all been spay/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and socialized by fosters.

“If you can’t afford that, you shouldn’t have a pet,” Montgomery said. “The adoption has to make sense. You know your dogs, you know families.”

And if, after the interviews and the application, they still don’t like the fit?

“We just say no,” Montgomery said.

The problem with rescue is that it is a much bigger problem than the solution. Donating 20 hours a week minimum only puts a small dent in the number of animals that need homes. Donations certainly help, but these animals need some serious one-on-one, according to Montgomery.

“If you don’t like what you see, get off your wallet and help make changes,” she’s fond of saying.

Annual medical bills of around $30,000, grooming—Sheehan went to dog grooming school and does routine grooming, but heavy-duty makeovers have to be done by a vet—and food are funded by adoption fees, donations and the pocketbooks of the rescuers.

“We’ve put a whole new meaning to nonprofit,” Montgomery said. “Throw us a bone, will you?”

Besides financial donations, both AMRT and HFH need volunteers and people willing to foster small dogs. In the interim, they’re looking for a facility with room for kennels and events. Finding foster care, they say, is difficult, and so a housing facility is necessary. Regarding specific needs, a visit to the organizations’ Web sites will provide information. Neither AMRT nor HFH advertises, relying on word of mouth, Web hits and visibility on Sundays in the Marina area.

“We’ll take anything,” Cloake said. “Anyone got a van?”

Rescuing small dogs is what Cloake describes as a joy and a gift, something that she and Montgomery are blessed with. The human irresponsibility and heartlessness factors are what make them bare their teeth and snarl. Both are saddened by the failure of AB 1634, the mandatory spay/neuter bill, to pass the Senate.

“It’s sad to think that you have to mandate it, but—you have to,” Montgomery said, adding that their concern is not over legitimate breeders but backyard breeders and people who won’t take the time to spay/neuter their pets. It also seems that for every animal that’s rescued, there are 10 more that are turned into shelters or abandoned on the streets. Montgomery said that they get all kinds of calls, from people who have found litters of kittens or a stray dog and don’t know what to do with them to a woman who called up one November and asked if they did trade-ins for Christmas. Montgomery wished her a very happy holiday in not such exact words.

“With rescue, if you lose your sense of humor, you need to get out,” she said.

Laverne and Shirley? More like Wonder Woman and Xena, with a touch of Hermione Granger.

Visit the small dogs at HFH at the Alamitos Bay Marina Farmer’s Market and AMRT at Petco, 6500 PCH on Sundays between approximately 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. If you are interested in donating to HFH and AMRT, visit the following Web sites:

Where There’s a Feral, There’s a Will

Antje Hunt sits in her car, the windows open, listening for the click that signifies that the door has shut on the specially made traps for feral cats. It’s 8:55 p.m.—very late in Hunt’s busy day, and she’s been in her vehicle for several hours.

“I was getting so tired that I was turning over in the front seat to get comfortable,” Hunt said, her stern no-nonsense countenance barely hiding a puckish sense of humor that she desperately needs in her calling. “I’d just turned over when I heard the t-t-t-t, and sure enough, the kitten was in.”

Hunt is one of Long Beach’s dedicated hardworking advocates of the ferals of Long Beach. Her nonprofit organization, Long Beach Spay Neuter (LBSN), was established in 2004 by Hunt, Lorraine Fishman and Joanne Fishman, with the mission of spaying and neutering as many cats as possible, tame as well as ferals.

“All of us are hoping that by reducing the number of cats or keeping it down, we’re reducing the suffering of cats not provided for fully,” Hunt said.

Despite the relatively high profile that feral cats have had in the local papers lately, many people generally see feral caregivers as hatted cat ladies strewing a feline-filled field with kibble, like ailurophilic Lady Bountifuls. But the path of a feral-cat advocate is one of method and not madness, and if Hunt were to wear a hat, it would probably be a pith helmet or a hardhat. It’s impossible to estimate the number of ferals living in the country or in the area, but it’s considerable, and it’s growing rapidly because of the mortgage crisis and dumping of litters on the street or in existing colonies by people who for reasons of ignorance, irresponsibility or finances don’t spay or neuter their cats. The resulting illness, death and euthanization (70 percent of felines turned into shelters, as reported by Alley Cat Allies) keep caregivers such as Hunt going into the trenches two to three times a week at any hour and engage in T-N-R: trapping, then spaying or neutering the cats, and finally returning them to their original colonies to breed no more.

“The kittens get tamed quickly,” Hunt said. “Mother’s the teacher. If you’ve gone regularly to feed the mother, the kittens follow, and you can pick them up until they’re 7 weeks old. When they begin to eat solid food, you can pull them [out of their hiding places].”

Because of this, Hunt said, the kittens can be fostered and adopted out, if there are enough homes for them. Adults aren’t tamed as easily, however, and it’s rare that a feral adult can live comfortably inside a home with humans. Even then, an understanding human companion is required because the cat may retain some feral behaviors and issues. Therefore, the adults are returned to the colonies where they are maintained and managed.

There’s no such thing as a normal day in the life of a feral caregiver unless exhausting is synonymous with normal. The caregivers trap cats in all sections of the city, in both public and private locations. Businesses who are concerned about the feral population and want to assist with T-N-R will sometimes call the organization to do T-N-R on their properties and offer donations in return.

“That donation is gone in a flash,” Hunt said, citing the cost of one neuter and all the medical trappings.

T-N-R can go out of the litter box, too. One calico slyboots had lived in one colony making kittens season after season. After fruitless trapping efforts, Hunt managed to slip megestrol acetate, a pharmaceutical used as birth control for cats and dogs, into her food. This stopped the litters, but because of possible medical side effects of the drugs, Hunt was bound and determined to trap the calico. She and a friend fashioned a Rube Goldbergesque device that involved a large dog carrier, a piece of plywood to block out the light coming out of the rear, a rope, some sort of trapping mechanism and food.

“By golly, after two years of megestrol, it worked,” Hunt said. “It was the 26th of February—I remember that date! You have to be crafty.”

Besides the long hours of trapping and the visits to the low-cost clinics for altering, caregivers make sure that the animals are fed and watered regularly, create a comfort zone for the cats before they trap them, find homes to foster the kittens, make home visits to people who have adopted or consider adopting cats, and pick up huge pallets of food that is donated by various organizations and pet store chains. Some supplies plus the truck, forklift and pallet rentals for the food are paid by the funds that come in the form of donations, adoption fees, grants and the pockets of the caregivers themselves. Because of the constant activity, LBSN does not have a membership or meetings.

LBSN takes care of the spay/neuter, vaccinations and medical necessities, but they don’t have the funds for microchipping the cats. At their adoption events that take place most Saturdays and Sundays at the Belmont Shore branch of Bank of America, they strongly advise the new families to microchip the kittens. Hunt said that the idea for insisting on a deposit that will be returned upon proof of microchipping is being strongly considered.

And expect to pass a stringent screening process if you expect to take home a new friend. The adoption fee is the least of it; Hunt and her cohorts will subject you to a fine-mesh screening to see if you’ll keep your kitten safe and healthy.

“Today, someone wanted to adopt a kitten as a friend for another cat,” Hunt said. “They said that the cat’s one friend got killed under a tire and another one by a coyote. I said, mm-hmm. Sometimes humanity disgusts me.”

The organization presently has a handful of foster homes and would be happy to have more people who can also pass the screening test be willing to foster kittens. LBSN could also use financial donations, of course, but what would help them most is personal responsibility from everyone who lives with an animal. Despite their mission of reducing the number of births, they feel that they’re only making a dent in the problem. LBSN traps and alters 150 to 200 cats and kittens every year, but only adopts out 45 of them.

“I sometimes say, I can’t take it anymore,” Hunt said. “I know people in [T-N-R] 30, 40 years. What’s wrong with this picture? It takes a community. If every one of us would take a cat that doesn’t belong to him and have it fixed, we’d have no problem.”

Long Beach Spay and Neuter has animals for adoption Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the Bank of America parking lot, 5101 E 2nd St. in Belmont Shore. For information on volunteering or to donate, visit [email protected] or [email protected].

For frequently asked questions about feral cats, visit this link.

Alley Cat Allies:

Where They All Can Go

Pet food and meds are costly, but the initial expense of an altering procedure can be a wallet shock, especially in these financially uncertain times. But if you can afford food and meds and the only obstacle to neutering your best friend is cost, there’s really no excuse. Get a voucher  from Friends of Long Beach Animals, Pet Assistance Foundation or Actors and Others for Animals and take your cat or dog to one of the low-cost spay/neuter clinics. There’s a great one with an office in Long Beach and another in Garden Grove: the Golden State Humane Society (GSHS).

GSHS specializes in spaying and neutering of dogs and cats and offers routine and minor medical procedures and nonmedical services such as vaccinations and nail trimming. The clinic began as the California branch of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in a small converted house in Garden Grove. When HSUS closed its local offices 37 years ago, GSHS became an independent nonprofit clinic run by an executive board, with its co-founder and manager Robert Fisher as president and original co-founder Terry Fitzpatrick as board member. Today, Fitzpatrick is the facility’s CEO. William D. Caswell replaced Fisher 20 years ago when he died of a heart attack.

“The humane community lost a great advocate,” Caswell said.

The clinic moved from the small house into another Garden Grove location and opened the Long Beach office through a financial settlement allotted for the opening of another facility. Today, the Garden Grove facility employs two full-time veterinarians and the Long Beach office has one full-time veterinarian and two others who work part time. The organization publishes a newsletter, which they issue to its membership of 1,000, but they don’t purchase advertising; instead, they get their clients through referrals by customers and other veterinarians, hits on their Web site, vouchers from spay-neuter advocate groups, and word of mouth. They also have a booth every spring at the America’s Family Pet Expo Orange County where they do minor medical treatments and talk about their facility. And the clients do come.

“I get here in the morning, and there are lines,” said Marcus Caswell, William Caswell’s son and operations manager of GSUS.

The clinic’s mission—spaying and neutering as many cats and dogs as possible by offering a low-cost option—may be thought of as the last word and step of the talk and walk of the stewards in this series. Office visits cost $15, and altering procedures run about $40 for dogs and around $30 for cats, far less than the hundreds of dollars that regular vets charge. The procedures include anesthetic, sutures and doctor time. All animals must be current on their vaccines, or they can have them done at the clinic, again at a much lower cost. Feral cats are accepted as well, but the clinic limits them to two a day because of the enormous number of ferals that populate the many colonies and the determination of T-N-R volunteers to limit their breeding. Still, Marcus Caswell said, if there are any cancellations, they will take one more.

“We don’t like to turn people away,” Marcus said. “We could charge a lot more, too, and still have our objective, but a lot more animals would suffer if we did. It’s an absolute blessing to help people out—I’d rather see an animal get what it needs than make a few extra dollars.”

The idea that so many people who have modest incomes or are in financial difficulty see the importance in being responsible for their pets gives Bill Caswell hope that they are making a dent in pet overpopulation. But even with the clinics’ impressive combined total of procedures last year—13,964 spays and neuters— he and his son still know the reality of the overcrowded shelters and the former best friends dumped in the streets or parks. They both strongly supported AB 1634, the bill that mandated spay/neuter for most California pets, and were disappointed in its failure in the Senate.

“Eventually, we must have a general requirement for spay/neuter,” Bill Caswell said. We agree, at least until people know better. We hope this section helped in that respect.

Golden State Humane Society
555 E. Artesia Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90805-1406
(562) 423-8406

11901 Gilbert St.
Garden Grove, CA 92841-2702
(714) 638-8111

Actors and Others for Animals
Spay California
America’s Family Pet Expo Orange County

“We recognized a few years ago that we can’t adopt our way out of the overpopulation problem.”
                           – Fran Ackley, author