Life in a Dog Shelter

Today, when I arrived for my job as receptionist at the Humane Society, I found a large dog tied to the fence across our driveway. She was shivering, as the temperature was only about 15 degrees that morning, and she had short hair which didn't provide much protection from the cold. She also had ice-blue eyes, so we named her Icy.

Abandoned dog

I got out of my car to open the gate, and Icy came right up to me, giving me a look that said, "Please find a warm place for me!" Because she didn't appear to be vicious, I put her in my car. Otherwise, I would have had to wait for one of the dog wardens to come over from the pound and hook her with one of the long sticks. I always hate to see that, but it is the only safe way to capture a dog intent on hurting you.

When I got the gate opened and got back into the car, Icy was waiting patiently on the passenger seat, just happy to be warm. I drove up to the building and got out of the car. As if she knew what she was supposed to do, Icy jumped out and walked obediently by my side into the shelter.

That's when I got my first good look at her. Poor Icy! She didn't have naturally short fur, she had mange! Mange is a skin disease that results from a parasitic infection of mites. There are two kinds, and I had no way of telling which kind Icy had. Sarcoptic mange can spread to humans, but demodactic mange typically does not. I was very glad I had my coat and gloves on when I picked up Icy! I'd have to thoroughly wash them before I dared put them back on, and I'd have to shampoo my car seat just in case


But for now, I had to isolate Icy so she wouldn't infect any of our other residents, and I had to make sure she saw the vet first thing this morning. I was able to sit in on her vet appointment since we weren't too busy on a cold winter's day, and because I had taken a shine to her.

The vet took a few skin scrapings to look for mites, and unfortunately, found out it was sarcoptic mange. That means Icy will have to stay in isolation for awhile rather than going to a foster home or a permanent placement. The vet also found out that Icy is pregnant with at least four puppies!

Unfortunately, it's not all that uncommon for pregnant dogs to be dropped off at our shelter. People don't understand that part of the responsibility of having a pet is getting it spayed or neutered. Then, when a pregnancy occurs, they simply "throw away" the pet rather than deal with the results of their own irresponsibility. That's why all animals at our shelter are fixed before they can be released to a new home.

Icy should weigh about 50 pounds, but has been allowed to become severely underweight at her previous home. Her ribs and hip bones stick out at angles from her body. She weighs only 35 pounds, which is really dangerous for the puppies. We will have to feed her a high quality, high calorie food to make sure she gets enough nutrients for herself and for her puppies.

Icy will have to stay in isolation until we can get rid of her mite infestation. What a lonely life! But, none of us want to catch scabies, which is the human form of sarcoptic mange. So, whenever we bring Icy out of her cage, we have to be in gowns with long sleeves and fitted cuffs. We try to get her out at least once a day, but it's tough to do with all of our other duties. Some days, she simply has her meals put down for her and her cage lined with fresh papers once a day. Once a week, we have to take her out to give her the treatment for her mange. Before we put the sulfurated lime rinse on her, we have to give her a bath, which she hates. But, after being in her cage alone for most of the week, she is happy to have some attention


Her puppies are growing large inside her, and she is getting close to her whelping date. I hope she can make it one more week because the vet says her mites should be gone by then. As luck would have it, she gives birth to five healthy puppies two days after her last treatment! The runt of the litter even has her mom's pretty blue eyes.

The puppies will be watched closely for any signs of mange, but Icy's coat is looking pretty good by now, so the vet does not think there will be a problem. Icy is such a good mama! She took good care of all of her puppies right from the very beginning. Because it is important to keep the puppies with their mama for the first eight weeks, they will have to be housed at the shelter for awhile. We don't have many foster homes that are able to take in six dogs at once, especially not with the extra care puppies require.

After a week or so, the vet certified all the dogs to be free of mites, so Icy's life will look quite a bit different now. We have volunteers who come in and walk all of the dogs just about every day. A lot of school classes come here to do community service. And since Icy has puppies with her, she has become our star attraction! She is pretty patient about letting people touch her puppies, but she does keep a protective eye on them. She doesn't like anyone leaving the room with one of the puppies when she is locked in her cage.

Now that Icy and her puppies are out of isolation, we let them roam around the shelter sometimes. This helps to socialize them to all the people who are in and out daily, which is especially important for the puppies. Most grown dogs are kept in their cages all day, except for walks and showings to prospective guardians. Having puppies means that Icy gets a bit of special treatment. And her winning personality doesn't hurt, either.

When the puppies reach eight weeks old, we put them on display for adoption. It shouldn't be hard to find homes for such cute little dogs, but we have to be careful to explain that these puppies will grow to at least 50 pounds. People don't always understand that cute little puppies can grow into large, unruly dogs without the proper training. At our shelter, we offer basic obedience classes, but not all of our customers take advantage of them. Then, they often drop the dog back off to us because "he won't listen to me!" Go figure.

In the end, all five puppies are adopted before they are ten weeks old. The vet does the spaying and neutering on the day the dog is chosen by a family, and the dog is ready for pick up the next day. I'm so glad I got to meet all five families that took a puppy, because I decided to keep Icy for myself.

My boss says I can bring her in to work with me every day, so she has become our unofficial mascot. The whole staff fell in love with her during her stay with us, so I'm glad she will get to maintain contact with all of her "aunts and uncles." Most of the dogs that pass through here don't get to stay with us very long, so we don't become quite so attached, and we rarely know much about their lives after they leave the shelter, unless they get brought back by someone who didn't know what to expect when they first took the dog.

If I had one wish, it would be that all pet dogs be spayed and neutered right after they were brought home. If that were done, I'd probably be out of a job, but it would be worth it to see that no dogs ever went homeless because there are so many unwanted animals in this country.


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I have whelped many literts over the past twenty years and never needed to supplement calcium. "Practical Matters: Do not institute calcium supplementation during canine pregnancySep 1, 2008By: Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACTVETERINARY MEDICINEMargaret V. Root KustritzPostpartum hypocalcemia, also called eclampsia or puerperal tetany, is a metabolic condition most commonly seen in small-breed dogs nursing large literts two or three weeks after whelping. It is characterized by ataxia, mydriasis, disorientation, tachycardia, and neglect of pups, with possible progression to seizures. Clients with dogs that have suffered from eclampsia often want to supplement the bitches with calcium during subsequent pregnancies; however, calcium supplementation during pregnancy is contraindicated.Parathyroid hormone is secreted in response to decreased serum calcium concentrations. The hormone increases calcium concentrations by promoting osteoclastic activity and increasing calcium uptake from the gastrointestinal tract. Oral calcium supplementation causes persistent serum calcium elevation with subsequent downregulation of parathyroid hormone. When the bitch whelps and begins lactating, it is difficult for oral supplementation alone to provide enough calcium since it is poorly absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. Because the parathyroid hormone has been downregulated in dogs receiving oral calcium, bone calcium stores cannot be accessed and hypocalcemia results.Instead of calcium supplementation, pregnant bitches should be fed a well-balanced puppy or performance food during the latter half of gestation. Calcium supplementation during lactation will not cause iatrogenic hypocalcemia, so supplementation may be instituted at whelping.Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACTDepartment of Veterinary Clinical SciencesCollege of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of MinnesotaSt. Paul, MN 55108 "
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