Saturday, October 31, 2009

A fairytale friendship in the 'hood

Lily dressed up for Halloween as Little Red Riding Hood, with Mungo as her sidekicka dog in wolf's clothing.

One of the best parts about having a sibling when you’re a kid is that a brother or sister provides a convenient scapegoat, someone to finger-point and blame bad deeds on. An only child doesn’t have such luxuries.

Unless you have a Mungo.

Lily and her Sheltie Mungo get up to all the usual sibling hijinks—sharing food, laying claim to each other’s belongings. And then there’s the mischief-making.

“Lily likes to ensure that the dog is nearby whenever she is up to no good in the hopes that Mum and Dad will fall for the-dog-did-it defense,” said Lily’s mum Nancy MacKinnon, whom I attended Carleton University School of Journalism with back in the late 1980s.

“They’re a really funny pair, as sometimes it seems they merely tolerate each other, yet they are acutely aware of the other and how he/she is doing.”

Particularly in the last little while, when three-year-old Lily came down with a bad bout of the flu.

“Mungo has been her shadow, keeping an eye on her, and if she fusses, coughs or cries, he comes over and pokes me on the leg with his muzzle, then walks back to her and waits for me to see to her.”

Mungo’s playing nurse now, but in the past, that’s been Lily’s role.

“She will use him as her patient when playing with her doctor’s kit. He lets her, but gives me a look that I interpret as “why, why???”

Mungo has been intrigued by baby Lily since her first day home from hospital, showing acceptance into his pack by bringing his toys to her.

On track for recovery

Here's a still from the old cartoon that inspired the name for Nell the dog. It was part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and featured dim-witted Dudley Do Right, a Canadian mountie. He would save his heart throb Nell when evil Snidley Whiplash tied her to the tracks. But Nell always gave the horse more affection than her hapless human hero.

On Thursday I told you about Nell, the Whatcom Humane Society dog who had been tied to the train tracks and left to die by some heartless human being.

Many of you have written to ask how Nell is doing. I'm thrilled to report that she was transferred from the shelter to a foster home yesterday. It will take time for her to trust people again. Who could blame her. She will get patient, tender care from her foster family.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Desperately seeking closure

I see these posters at every shelter I visit. I always hope for a happy ending. Sometimes not knowing is the hardest part for these pet guardians searching for their lost loves.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Already trained

I saw this dog recovering in a back kennel at Whatcom Humane Society when I stopped by to visit last week. She was terrified. Rescued just days earlier, she had been tied to the train tracks by someone and hit once by a locomotive. I see or hear about cruelty every day, but this one shocked even me.

Shelter staff named this poor girl Nell, after the woman in the old cartoon who was tied up on the train tracks by evil Snidely Whiplash. She would be rescued by her hero Dudley Do-Right. In this case, it will be the shelter that's doing right for sweet Nell.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Facing the eye of the storm

It was gratifying to watch Shelly's instant connection with shelter staff at Whatcom Humane Society when she was in Washington State last week. Hooking people from our field together is one of my favorite pastimes. It creates rescuer synergy. Here Shelly's engaging in "shelter speak" with superstar WHS volunteer Lynn Graham.

When it comes to bonding experiences, outrunning a hurricane together is high up on the list.

For Shelly Patton and I, the event nourished a friendship in progress, one that had already begun to bud in the wasteland left behind by natural disaster.

New Orleans first hurtled its way into my heart when I helped rescue animals there in 2005 following the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina. Like most animal rescuers, I couldn’t stay away from the city that had been washed away, even when the initial mission was over.

I’ve returned several times since that fateful event to document the recovery and try to make sense of it all.

It was during my one-year anniversary trip there in 2006 that I first met Shelly Patton. She works at the Louisiana SPCA, the state’s lead animal welfare agency. The shelter had lost eighty percent of its staff and its entire facility to the floods. Shelly and the rest of her team were working out of trailers, the animals housed beside them in a makeshift shelter formerly operating as a coffee warehouse.

I was in New Orleans writing about the city’s animals for a piece that ran in Modern Dog magazine.

But it ended up being a very human story.

The tales told gave me hope in humanity. Researching how people risked life and limb to save their pets. How local and out-of-town rescuers worked side by side to achieve miracles amidst tragedy for the animals who were left behind to die.

When the three-year anniversary came along in August 2008, the city decided to erect a monument at city hall to the animals who suffered through the floods, and to the people who risked their personal health and safety to save them.

I knew I wanted to be there to see the statue unveiled.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Gustav had decided to be there too. The giant storm was scheduled to hit New Orleans on August 28th, the exact same day Katrina had made landfall three years earlier.

With the levee system still in tatters, it was quite possible that the city would flood again.

Rescuers who went to the ceremony were poised to help if the worst happened. Instead of spending a peaceful afternoon of fanfare down at city hall remembering what was saved and mourning what was lost, we left the ceremony on the hunt for survival supplies: ice, water, food for several days. Coolers and gas cans filled with extra fuel.

It would be days before the hurricane hit, but that night I returned to my hotel to find a flyer had been slipped under my door. City officials had ordered the hotels to close down the following day, and to turn guests out of their rooms. Visitors were instructed to leave the city at once.

But I didn’t feel like a visitor.

I had a job to do. Now that FEMA had new rules in place, laws had changed. The pets were going with their people for the first time in history, and I wanted—no, needed— to be there to write about it.

I decided I wasn’t leaving. I had planned to ride the hurricane out in my car. Then Shelly Patton saved the day. She invited me to join the Louisiana SPCA’s team, to write and photograph their efforts to help the animals for the organization’s website. Every hotel room just outside the storm zone was booked solid, but they graciously invited me to squish into one of their rooms.

There would be three people, five dogs and a rabbit sharing the space for several days. And all the rooms occupied by shelter staff were just as chock full as ours. The hotel’s generator was operating only to serve food in a dining room, so the rooms had running water but no electricity.

But it was still a refuge compared to the alternative.

I won’t forget the eerie drive out of town that day to Baton Rouge. By the time animal rescuers left the city, it was just hours before Gustav’s scheduled landing. The highways leading out of New Orleans were jammed in every direction but one: the path of the hurricane. Three of us were driving in a convoy. Shelly, SPCA staffer Ginger Morvant and me.

We were taking our animal-laden vehicles out using the only wormhole left.

While people sat for hours on freeways waiting to escape with the rest, we drove free and clear, the only three vehicles on the road for most of the two-hour drive.

Traveling a path that’s separate from the one everyone else is taking is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. But sometimes it’s the right road.

After we parked our cars in the hotel lot, Shelly asked me to move mine closer to hers. Good thing she did, because I had been parked in this empty space. It wasn't empty for long. The wind snatched the metal hotel sign taking it down effortlessly, like it was a spindly toothpick.

Two city workers setting up a barricade parked a little too close to the water's edge, and their truck slid right into the drink. They had to climb out the back window to escape. They were quite embarrassed when I interviewed them at the water's edge, and weren't anxious to have their photos taken.

I had the chance to interview one of the country's most famous mayors, Ray Nagin. For months his face was plastered all over the news as he led the city's recovery from Katrina, and negotiated with state and federal officials. Nagin stopped by the pet evacuation center to see how the efforts of animal rescuers were progressing.

While visiting our local shelters last week, Shelly also met Whatcom Humane Society executive director Laura Clark, who gave her a tour of the Williamson Way shelter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some shelter animals need a leg up

This cat took an interest in me while I was visiting Whatcom Humane Society. I have more than a dozen photos of her in different poses sticking her paws out of the cage.

One of the reasons people get upset visiting shelters is the sad sight of animals pushing their paws out from behind the bars seeking affection.

But these aren’t the animals most deserving of pity.

Their demeanor—begging to be chosen—helps sell their strengths to potential adopters.

While shelter workers and volunteers do their best to keep all the animals in their care balanced, happy and comforted, there will always be those claimed by kennel stress. Pushed into the back of their cages, looking terrified, perhaps even hissing or growling as people walk by.

Only a handful of human beings would choose these animals instead of a friendly, outgoing one. Not many will step up and see past perceived imperfection to select a companion who will need some extra love, affection and attention to trust again.

These rare few have learned a secret that keeps rescuers going. An animal’s issues don’t have to be just an inconvenient hassle. By giving them a chance, we stretch ourselves. Our patience, our ability to love unconditionally, to accept things as they are.

The resulting bond between animal and guardian is strengthened because of the journey the two have taken together to get there. And the joy and satisfaction that comes from saving is reward enough.

Because by saving them, we also save ourselves.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Follow animal instincts to vet a vet

Dr. Kimberly Barron works on this Labrador's ears.

When people ask me how to choose a vet, I always tell them the same thing.

If the veterinary team in question is committed to assisting the animal rescue mission, then you’ve found a keeper.

It’s true, I admit it—I’m biased. But after two decades as an animal rescuer, this litmus test has served me well. Veterinarians and their assistants who support animal welfare are almost always knowledgeable and compassionate. And they have the animals’ best interests at heart. Plus they care about the well-being of all creatures in their community, not just the clinic’s bottom line.

When I moved to Bellingham, Washington in 2001, one of my first stops was a visit to Dr. Kimberly Barron, owner of Northshore Veterinary Hospital.

Kim has served on the Whatcom Humane Society board of directors. She’s donated her time and medical skills to rescue groups and supported initiatives such as spay-neuter days at her clinic. She understands the issues.

Eight years later, I’m proud to call Kim a friend.

When my cat Opus fell sick recently, the knowledge that I had Kim in the pocket was a source of great comfort. If the worst happened, Kim would be there to help me take Opus’ life as humanely and painlessly as possible.

Kim’s competence alone would have been enough to endear her to me. And her personality complements her skills. Kind but not gushy, matter-of-fact but nowhere near cold, Kim has a friendly, good-humored demeanor that inspires serenity and soothes grief.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t affected by her work.

Those in veterinary medicine who truly care about their charges face the same risks of compassion fatigue and burnout that test shelter workers and other rescuers.

But there’s a difference. At a shelter or rescue group, the human guardian most often walks away, leaving the animal behind as the only creature in need.

In a vet clinic, a human being is the first patient to present in need, characterized by sorrow, heartbreak, or other personal problems such as divorce, illness, and job loss, even a need to give up an animal because of an unexpected move or other change in circumstances.

At Kim’s clinic on Electric Avenue, any one of her clients might be losing a member of the family on any day. Or every day.

That means Kim and the rest in her veterinary ranks minister to the people just as much as they help the animals.

It takes its toll on her to support her clients’ emotions.

“Sometimes it comes out as being really irritable or depressed, and I don’t really know where it’s coming from,” Kim said. “And then I realize I’ve been doing a ton of euthanasias. Even if it’s for the good of the animals, it’s still really hard to do it.”

Before I arrived with Opus on her final day, Kim had decided she was going to take a break from euthanizing until the following week. She had already taken the lives of two cats and a dog in the previous 24 hours.

When the bodies start to pile up, Kim doesn’t sleep well.

“It’s not guilt or remorse,” she said. “I know it needs to be done. But it takes its toll.”

Another veterinarian at her clinic had offered to take over for a bit while Kim recuperated.

But in the end, Kim decided to perform the procedure. To follow the case through to its final conclusion.

It wasn’t an easy euthanasia. Opus doesn’t react well to leaving her home environment. Just like when she’s receiving a simple vaccination, Opus fought the injection that would shut her system down for good.

It’s the third cat Kim has euthanized for me in four years.

I know there will be more goodbyes in my future. But I’m comforted to think that Kim will be there, and not just for my animals.

For me, too.

To read the full story of Opus, go to "And then there were eight".

If you are interested in hearing more about Dr. Kim Barron and her animal rescue experiences, check out this story I wrote about animal hoarding. Kim's story is the lede.

Janet Erchinger-Davis rescued this pug from Craigslist to be a friend for her other four-year-old pug St. Coco. This one got an even loftier name: Basil the Great.

This woman brought a bird in for her daughter Korren, who has three rescued birds including one saved from a rodeo clown. This one, a sulfur-crested Cockatoo named Daphne, came by for a check-up.

The clinic had a record-setting day for number of teeth pulled: 42. Nine came from the mouth of eight-year-old Chunky B, a rescued Chihuahua who had been fed people food his whole life. He's been fixed up good as new, except for a new feature that's oddly endearing: his tongue has a tendency to stick out.

Licensed veterinary technician Rose Eastman does the Kennel Card Shuffle.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leaving a beauty mark

Nature has sprinkled magic dust everywhere in the form of autumn leaves. Colorful decorations bestowed upon earthlings by a force bigger than themselves. I thought this streetlight poking through the trees last night resembled the moon.

Even in darkness, bright shiny leaves form a crunchy carpet of many colors.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not born in the USA

We all received tiny flags to wave on our special day.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

- Excerpt from a sonnet called The New Colossus. It was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 and mounted on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. The poem embraces the millions of immigrants who have made the United States their adopted homeland.

* * *

I swore yesterday.

Except this time, everyone approved.

I was taking an oath.

A promise to be a good and loyal citizen to my adopted homeland, the United States. I moved here 12 years ago. Me and three cats in a U-Haul driving across the Canadian border near Vancouver, on my way to Southern California.

But until yesterday, I didn’t feel like I really belonged. Just like felons, I couldn’t even vote, a particularly sore spot for me in last year’s historical election of the first African American president.

Yesterday that all changed.

In Seattle, 111 people including me from 46 countries were claimed by the United States in a ceremony that occurs at the Department of Homeland Security offices about three times a week. It moved me to tears.

Besides receiving our naturalization certificate and congratulations from government officials who were on hand, a couple of short videos were screened. President Barack Obama spoke to us with a personal, heartfelt message.

“This is a historical day, and you’ll never pass this way again. Citizens such as yourself have enriched this country socially, culturally and economically. Use your freedoms and your talents to contribute to the good of the nation and the world.”

I don’t feel like I’ve given up my love for the place that birthed me. But because I’ve made America my homeland, I want to feel like I’ve got rights in this nation, too.

And now I belong to both.

I’ve been accepted by not just one, but two of the greatest countries on planet Earth.

And that’s just dandy—or shall we say, Yankee Doodle Dandy—with me.

I have the privilege of keeping dual citizenship, so now I'm a proud member of both Canada and the U.S.

Nearly one-quarter of the world's countries were represented in this single ceremony.

Here is the oath that all new citizens of the United States must swear to uphold:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

While being in the United States means we have the right to bear arms, that doesn't mean weapons are welcomed at the swearing in ceremony. This location also had an immigration detention center, so anything even vaguely threatening was confiscated. The guards had set up this display case of confiscated items. One guard told me that this many items are confiscated every two weeks.

It was truly a flag-waving moment outside after we had all completed this process. Here I'm posed with Judy Mikel from the Philippines and Daniela Alexakis from Romania. They both live in Vancouver, Washington.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Addicted to love

Krista Wiendat shares a bonding moment with baby John.

My interest in photographing human beings used to be lackluster at best. But I have to admit that’s changing. As my hope swells in the power of people to better the world, humans have started catching my shutter’s eye.

Here’s one from the mouths of babes.

I spotted Justin Vance and Krista Wiendat standing outside a restaurant cradling their baby boy John. The baby had his mom’s eyes, but his dad said he sees his son’s striking resemblance to himself at that age.

“He looks just like I do in my baby pictures,” Justin said proudly.

John is three months and five days old. His parents are young, just 22.

“We aren’t a couple,” Justin informed me.

Justin and Krista might not be together as a couple, but because of John’s arrival, he makes them family just the same.

While Krista and Justin cuddled young John, a gospel revival amped up into full swing across the street at the farmer's market.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

And then there were eight

At first, Opus rallied after receiving fluids, but her health soon began its steady decline again.

I don’t take vacations from writing. For me, stringing words together is like consuming food and water. It must be done within certain intervals or my well-being starts to weaken.

So when I go quiet for even a week, my close pals in rescue know exactly what that means.

Something has gone wrong.

Most likely I’ve been immersed in material that’s too torturous for my brain to process and I’ve shut down. But sometimes it’s more personal than that.

This week, my silence was as personal as it gets.

My mind was consumed with making one decision, that choice all animal guardians dread: to take the life of my beloved companion animal.

Opus was my oldest cat at 17. She had been with me since kittenhood, one of dozens of animals I fostered in the early 1990s for Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) in my no-pets-allowed townhouse apartment.

I get attached to every animal I foster. But I was young and only felt ready for the commitment of adopting two cats. A pair, so they would have each other for company.

Opus stood out to me because of her feisty attitude. She also gave me my first bout of ringworm.

My dear friend Tamara Vukusic—a fellow Carleton journalism school graduate—had been working at WHS at the time handling public affairs and media relations. She called me to come and get Opus because the ringworm meant her time was up. She said she had a kitten sitting in her desk drawer who was “special.”

Was she ever special, as I would come to discover later.

Opus’ counterpart was a slightly younger and much sweeter black-and-white fluffy tuxedo kitten I named Magnum.

Together they formed magnum opus, a Latin phrase that refers to an artist’s greatest life work, her most monumental masterpiece.

Many other cats came my way over the years, but Magnum and Opus formed the heart of me. Through all the heartbreak, in rescue and otherwise, they were a constant source of strength and support.

Two years ago, I lost Magnum at age 15 to pancreatic cancer. He was the primary cat tasked with cheering me up when I was sad. I cried for nine days straight when he was no longer there to lick the tears away.

Because Magnum died at an age considered old for a cat, I couldn’t live in my denial bubble anymore. Opus’ body clock was ticking too.

I had a reprieve for two years plus a week after Magnum’s death. Then Opus looked sick all of a sudden. She became thin and listless almost overnight.

I already knew what that meant as I bundled her into the carrier to bring her to my veterinarian. She had been healthy for 17 years, but she was old now, and it was likely her time.

Still, everything reasonable that could be done had to be done. Just in case I was wrong.

Taking Opus to the clinic —or anywhere for that matter—hadn’t ever been easy. She fought doing anything she didn’t want to do, and like most cats, being removed from her home environment was one of those things she really didn’t want to do.

Northshore Veterinary Hospital already had warnings in the computer system about Opus when I arrived, so they knew not to handle her like the average housecat.

Veterinary assistant Tonya Teetz came in wearing thick gloves up to the elbows. After a cursory look, it was determined Opus would be less stressed out if she was lightly sedated for testing.

Tests were run on her blood and urine. Results began rolling in showing normal. Unusually normal in fact, for such an old cat. Opus was set up on IV fluids because she was dehydrated, and she spent the night at Northshore for observation.

On Facebook, I recorded her progress. People on my Friends list cheered Opus on as she started showing lively signs over the next 24 hours. She was eating healthy portions again, standing up, swiping at us, and trying to rip out her IV needle.

The next evening, she was discharged to me looking much better. But the apparent miracle recovery wasn’t to be.

A day later, X-rays revealed a cancer tumor in her colon that was large for a cat’s small system, at 9 centimeters by 4.5 centimeters.

Hope had evaporated.

The night I heard the fateful news, I posted the question I was posing to myself on Facebook as I was pondering it: When to do it?

Support came pouring in. Animal lovers messaged me their stories. How long their pets’ illnesses had lasted before they made the decision, all the life-saving measures they had tried. The guilt they had felt when they waited too long.

But it was veterinarian Kim Barron’s advice in a story I wrote about Magnum two years earlier that came back to me again and again (Grieving guardians seek peace and understanding). Kim's words echoed in my mind as I paced through the night beside Opus’ bed.

“If there’s nothing that can be done and the animal is not completely comfortable, and if the owners are ready, it’s time,” she had told me in our interview.

As the night wore on, Opus’ condition didn’t get any better. In fact, she got worse. She started changing body positions every 15 minutes or so trying to get comfortable. Cats tend to get settled into the same position for hours. And she moved very slowly. She seemed to grow more listless.

When morning dawned, I had my decision. I called Kim and made an appointment for 2 p.m. to give me the morning to say goodbye. But as I watched Opus, her eyes seemed to plead with me.

Within half an hour, I had moved the time up. To right now. As soon as I could get her there.

Of course I wasn’t ready. Who is ever ready to say goodbye to a cherished friend?

But then I realized I was ready in a way. Ready for her to stop suffering. Ready to ease her pain as she had eased mine for 17 years.

And that—the gift of a humane goodbye—is eternal.

* * *

Note added Dec. 15:
Just two months passed, and I experienced another grave loss. Read about Felix in Down to a Magnificent Seven.

Katie Sinclair and Rose Eastman work expertly to sedate Opus. Notice the gloves.

Dr. Kim Barron supervises a battery of tests for Opus.

Opus is extremely fractious, so she is sedated for tests that some cats could handle wide awake.

Despite Opus' cantankerous nature, veterinary assistant Tonya Teetz formed a bond with her while she was at the clinic. When Opus had to be euthanized, I was going to request Tonya, but I didn't have to. She asked to be with Opus before I asked for her, and appeared in the room as if by magic.

Opus' fighting spirit came back briefly.

I made the same request to Kim when Opus died as I had for Magnum two years before: that she would autopsy her so I could look inside and find closure, to see that there truly was no hope. Veterinary assistant Deirdre Kettlestrings prepared the room.

In addition to the autopsy I requested, Kim elected to do an ultrasound for educational purposes, because she had never seen a cancer tumor inside the ascending colon before.

Opus chose to spend her last night at home looking out over the forest she loved so much from the comfort of her warming bed.

Sam sat by Opus saying his quiet goodbyes. They spent 7 years together.

Opus Maloney
1992 -
Oct. 8, 2009

Rest in peace
my angel

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A road-worthy friendship

It didn't take any provocation for Adam Wayne to display his body art.

There are times when I wear my work in animal rescue like a hairshirt: it inspires reactions that are uncomfortably itchy.

Last week, I was relaxing in a local pub when my hairshirt caused someone else to show me his.

The man in the photo—who would only identify himself by his first and middle names, Adam Wayne—partially disrobed when he found out what I do.

Granted, it wasn’t me who inspired his undress.

He was driven by love for his pit bull mix, Charlie. To show me the tattoo he got as a tribute to his beloved dog. It’s an exact tracing of Charlie’s paw print, complete with nails.

Charlie had a hairshirt of his own to wear and bear just before he met Adam. He was the only survivor of a cruel act.

One of Adam's friends had been driving on the 5 freeway in Whatcom County, Washington when he saw the terrible sight.

Someone had treated a litter of a half-dozen puppies just like litter, offering them no more kindness than an ashtray loaded with cigarette butts tossed from a vehicle’s window. By the time Adam’s friend stopped to help, the puppies were nothing more than lifeless lumps in the road.

Then, as he drove on, a miracle.

Little Charlie, just a few weeks old, was sitting right underneath the sign for a rest stop.

Waiting for someone to stop and rescue him.

That night, Adam went by his friend’s place to visit the sole survivor. Love was instant and ardent.

“I knew when I looked at him that he was mine. I begged my friend to give him to me, and he did.”

Thirty-one-year old Charlie and nine-year-old Adam have been together ever since. The 80-pound dog is a mix of a pit bull breed, Labrador and Greyhound.

“He’s my kid for sure. He loves me unconditionally. Anything I do wrong, he doesn’t care. He does a prance when he sees me.”

Life for Charlie didn’t start out as a freeway of love. But he’s certainly found himself in a partnership that’s been road tested.

Notice Adam even included the dog's nails as part of the tattoo.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Polly Ester blend in a blanket

Anyone else like to poke their toes out of the blanket like Polly Ester? Photo courtesy of Tory Maxwell.

Fall is my favorite time of year. The leaves get crunchy and colorful, and the odd warm days feel like bonus summer.

Being an insomniac, I welcome it when the nights grow colder, because that means sunlight time is shrinking. Darkness encourages sleep.

Animals can sense winter coming just like people can. While we’re winterizing our homes, they have their own chores. Bears prepare dens for hibernation. Squirrels pack nuts away. And dogs and cats…well, they’re trying to stay cozy too.

Meet a four-year-old pup who figured out exactly how to stay warm when the chilly bite of the Pacific Northwest autumn caught up with us last week. Polly Ester—so named because she is a blend of dogs—loves to bundle up in blankets whenever possible.

Her guardian Tory Maxwell says Polly Ester is possibly a mix of American Eskimo and Australian Cattle Dog.

“Maybe??? Who really knows,” wrote Tory. “She came into the shelter when she was three months old. I remember her coming through the door. I don’t think I put her down after that. She was supposed to be a foster. Ha, that obviously didn’t work.”

The shelter Tory’s referring to is Whatcom Humane Society. She supervised the animal care technicians there for five years, and departed in 2006. That’s a lifetime in shelter years. Many employees don’t even last one year in the emotionally charged environment that characterizes the life-and-death reality of shelter life.

Calmly competent, always cheerful and upbeat, Tory’s one of my all-time favorite WHS employees. And I’m not alone in my sentiments on Tory.

Even though Tory doesn’t work at Whatcom Humane Society anymore, she will always be part of its fabric.

And so, for that matter, will Polly Ester. A fine blend indeed.

Here's Tory Maxwell writing her coordinates in my notebook at a shelter social event. I snapped a quick pic because I knew I'd be writing about her some day soon.