Monday, 2 September 2013

The Puffin Tales

Last Sunday morning I was on my way to the gym when I saw a little dog by the side of a very busy road. She was minding her own business so I stopped and watched, expecting that someone would call out to her or appear to be walking her off-leash. No such person appeared. I bent down close to her and put out my hand, she ducked back but then decided I wasn't too terrifying and came over for a pat and a belly-rub. Just then some people walked past to cross the road and she ran to them, expecting more pats, and onto the road. I dropped and called her to me, they heard and turned back and fortunately the little dog followed them. After ascertaining they did not know her and after a few more minutes of me crouching by the road holding her I decided an owner wasn't going to turn up and she was coming home with me. It is amazing how heavy a 3kg dog can be after you have carried her for 10 minutes.

She was wearing a collar but no tags. The first step was to see if she was microchipped. I rang my closest vet who I knew opened Sundays. They said they could scan her but would have to keep her and turn her in to the council. I explained that I was concerned for her welfare at the Lost Dogs Home (fairly high euthanasia rates) and was prepared to look after her until her owner could be found but no, that was their policy. I then called the emergency vet a little further away. They could scan her and even though they are supposed to call the council they understood my concerns and would let me care for her, so along we went. I spent the entire walk there (with the dog on a leash now) asking people if they recognised her and scanning the faces of drivers to see if they were possibly looking for a lost dog.

She did not have a microchip, was not desexed and appeared to be only about 6-7 months old. Bad news. I had been in touch with Mme Magic Paws (background info here) to check I was doing the right thing and now had to ask for more help. While I was waiting for the Bookworm to come and pick us up I named the dog Puffin- a feminised version of Puff the Magic dragon because she looked like a baby dragon :)

Puffin and Ted met on neutral ground outside my house. Puffin was terrified, she reared back and growled and again I was ringing Mme Magic Paws with the news that I thought she was possibly dog-aggressive. We locked her in the laundry and set about papering the streets with her description and my phone number. I also posted the same info on the lost dogs Facebook pages. I was so certain that someone would come home and go searching. I walked around the area I found her again and again expecting to see someone looking or hear someone calling for her. I talked to people in parks and people walking their dogs to see if they had heard of anyone missing a pup or heard anyone calling for an animal. Nothing.

That night we allowed the pups to spend a little more time together and the outcome was a little better. They played well, she was still a little snappy but Ted was big and clumsy compared to her little ninja form and neither of them was distressed.

The next day I walked around the area I had found her (again) and further explored the streets expecting to see some 'missing dog' posters on the telegraph poles where my 'dog found' posters weren't. As I neared the housing commission flats where Puffin was found I saw some white dogs wandering about. The thought crossed my mind "how many dogs am I going to end up with?". There were a couple of chihuahua x adult males wandering across the road and about the place. I couldn't get too close to them because I had Ted with me but I spoke to a workman who had been working around the flats for 15 years and according to him "there are hundreds of little white dogs around here. A guy over there kept breeding his dog, she had litter after litter. killed her in the end."


I went home and started calling the local vets, leaving a description and my contact details. I got a lecture from more than one about how I was being "irresponsible" by not taking her to the pound because that is where her owner will look for her.

Here's the thing. This dog was not microchipped or desexed and very likely not registered. If she went to the Lost dogs Home they would hold her for 8 days, after which time she would be rehomed or put to sleep. Puffin was small and fearful. Her initial response to Ted was one of fear and aggression. If you locked this little girl up in a cage where she was surrounded by the howling and barking of other dogs she would possibly show fear and aggression. When she is being assessed for rehoming or euthanasia this fear would count strongly towards the end of her days. When in reality, given time and care, she was affectionate and delightful.

Not only this. She is not microchipped and if she is not registered her owner will not be able to claim her from the pound without a registration certificate. Similarly, and not many people know this, should her owner call to see if she is there, giving a description of her, there is a good chance that the response will be that she is not there, even though she is huddled in the corner of cage 346.

I really objected to being called irresponsible. Given that I had spent the entire Sunday (that I had previously had nice plans for) putting up posters, initiating conversation with strangers and walking the streets hoping to hear somebody calling; Sunday night listening for her cry, taking her outside to wee and comforting my own fretful lad, I felt pretty responsible and in fact, virtuous. Calling the council to collect her and leaving her to her own devices, giving her owner just 8 days to track down his unmicrochipped, unregistered dog that could have been at either North Melbourne or Burwood East (25 km away) and not worrying about what would happen on Day 9 would have been by far the easier choice.

That afternoon Mme Magic Paws had been able to make some room to accommodate Puffin so I took her over. Already terribly attached to her it was difficult to say goodbye.

I started checking the Lost Dogs notices on every website I could find. Nothing. I could not understand, if it was Ted missing there would not be a person in the greater Melbourne area unaware of my plight. Then Wednesday night (3.5 days since I found her) I got a voicemail message. In broken English an older man's voice told me about his lost dog, searching for the correct words he said she is "black...ah...brown....ah...white". I called him back and said that I was very sorry but the dog I found is tan and white. He said she is not black, she is brown and white, described her as a chihuahua x maltese, 8 months old and that she was a good dog, a friendly dog. I really felt like we had a winner but there are crazies out there and I needed proof. Please send me a photo I said or a detailed description and I gave him my email address.

36 hours passed with no further contact. I called him back and told him I haven't received anything. He seemed to think his son had sent something. We hung up and 5 minutes later I got a message with a collage of Puffin pictures.

Happy Ending.

But I am angry. Although it is hard to be angry at this nice old man that loves his dog, he has been irresponsible. If I had not snatched his dog off the road she would be dead, if I had not kept her and put posters outside his apartment building she would be on day 8 at the pound right now. And unless he went directly from Mme Magic Paws to the vet and had her desexed she could be coming into season any day, bearing her first litter of puppies too young.

I am so angry at a system that allows such easy euthanasia of animals without having to account for the losses. I am exasperated at the inflexible temperament testing that occurs in many of these "shelters". I am outraged at the people working in the "shelters" that know what is happening and do nothing, just follow procedure. I am shocked by the blind trust most people have in the system, the unwavering belief that "shelters" are there to protect animals and get them back to their owners. I am vehemently angry at the people who field phone calls with descriptions of missing pets and don't make absolutely sure that the animal isn't in their facility- more than once I heard tales of animals being found at the shelter after repeated phone calls turning up nothing including one from a vet, who went to the pound and found  his microchipped cat after being told she wasn't there).  I am disgusted by the term "shelter"- other than a roof there is not a whole heap of sheltering happening.

Most of all, I am heartbroken that there is nothing I can do to change any of this.


  1. Nicole, you are a gem! It really is difficult when you find a lost animal to know what to do because of the new laws in place with vets (if you bring an animal in to check of they are microchipped- they will take it to the pound!). I had a similar experience with a cat that we found near a busy road at night time. The cat was chasing crickets and I called out to it and approached it and there was no response. After realising the cat was completely deaf, we made the decision to pick it up and take it to the vet to be scanned. The cat was simply beautiful (fluffy white cat with beautiful light blue eyes) but it was dirty and it's claws were shredded. Unfortunately the poor cat wasn't chipped and the vet took it away from us after my friend had written down her details asking to re-home if the owner not found. After the 8 days were up, we called to see if the cat had found his home or whether we could take him (we had been in contact with a rescue group happy to take him on) but he had been transferred to another pound where his 8 days had started again. After a further 8 days we called again for an update only to get the devestating news that the Lost Dogs home had taken him from the pound (even though he has a note next to his name that people would be taking him if not found his home). We immediately called the Lost dogs home to get him but they were holding him for a further couple of days and stated if we wanted to save his life, we would have to adopt him ourselves and pay the adoption and desexing fee.Now by this stage we were feeling pretty upset by the events around this animals well being since we only took him off the road as it wasn't safe for a deaf cat to be out and about. We felt like we had put his life in more danger by rescuing him so we made the decision to pay the lost dogs home and adopt him. Following this- was a happy ending for him, we named him River (to go with his beautiful blue eyes) and took him home finally. Now the rescue group took him from us and gave us an update only a couple of days later to let us know he had been re homed to a wonderful family. After all that mucking about just to save one animal, you start questioning the system, you start asking yourself if it was worth it? My answer is yes, that beautiful cat was saved and will have his happy ending. But, how many other people would go to that effort to ensure an animals safety? How many people know the process of what happens after dropping a lost animal off to the vet? If we had not adopted him, his cats days had run out and was to be euthanised. Is this fair? Not at all. To follow this we recieved a fine in the mail from the local council for almost $300 for not registering a cat. This fine was conducted as the Lost dogs home had forwarded our details to the council to let them know of our adoption (standard process). To clear the fine we had to write emails to the council explaining the situation on how we never had the cat but only adopted him to save him from being euthanised, then transferred him to a rescue group who adopted him out. The email got put under review and we had to wait 30 days to find out if we still had to pay. Thankfully the council dropped the fine but why did we have to go through all that trouble? Disgusting policies have been put in place that puts our lost animals in so much more danger. Things need to change.

    1. My goodness- YOU are the gem. Such a loving wonderful act and so much effort you put into saving that beautiful cat. One thing that your story does highlight is the way that caring RSPCA employees try to get around the ridiculous rules by transferring animals between facilities to give them more time. I have heard stories of this happening from a lady who used to work for the RSPCA and now owns a pet (supplies) shop. Whilst it made your experience trickier at least it offers hope to some of the other cases- it's only a band-aid though, policy needs to change. Your story also reinforces my fear that they would forget or lose my details to reclaim Puffin after the 8 days.

      It is hard not to make the Lost Dogs home out to be a monster, you don't hear many good stories and the euthanasia rates for cats are enormous- typically when discussing their kill rates they just talk about the dogs because they are typically easier to rehome. I do agree with them not releasing animals without microchipping and desexing them first but I wish they would make some attempt to liaise with rescue groups and maybe relax the rules in these cases- rescue organisations should not be paying the marked up cost of these procedures when they can access them much cheaper through their supportive local vets.

      This is the only part about my story that I now feel guilty about. Puffin was given back to her owner with advice about what should be done but who knows whether he will follow the advice. With the money he saved from not having to pay fines he can definitely afford to do the right thing- but will he? I do know for certain that the gentle man with English as a second language who had trouble describing his dog to me over the phone would not have physically searched the Lost Dogs home and got her back. Would she have been better off desexed and rehomed? I will never know. What I do know is that she was clean and happy and in beautiful condition and she loves her dad and he loves her.

      I didn't mention in my story but when I rang the second vet, the one that said she would let me take Puffin back, she did add that she didn't have final say, that it would be up to the vet in charge. I was absolutely ready to tuck Puffin under my arm and run off with her down the street if necessary. This might be harder if the next time I rescue a lost pet it is a Great Dane.

  2. Totally agree, it is very frustrating and disturbing that these practices are allowed to continue. I really don't understand why they employ the people in the pounds and shelters when they don't seem to care about animals. I have now taken in a female cat that was left behind when her owners moved and she is beautiful really affectionate and I will pay for her vet work and hopefully will find her a loving home that she deserves.

    1. The rules need to change, but it will be a long and strategic fight to change them and will require someone more politically savvy than myself. The really sad thing is that I think there are some beautiful caring people employed at these facilities but they are fighting an uphill battle against an inflexible system. Moving animals between RSPCAs is one way they are trying to help. I wouldn't be surprised if even at the Lost dogs Home there isn't the occasional animal smuggled out by a caring employee. I imagine it becomes too much after a while though.
      Wonderful you for taking in the cat, if you haven't already, make sure you get in touch with a rescue organisation because they will be able to get her vet work done much cheaper than you could privately:)

  3. I didn't know about that law (8 days! I thought it was much longer than that) or the treatment in animal shelters, how awful. Although to be fair, I think people who volunteer in shelters are probably caring people but have a really difficult job due to the red tape of the system.

    p.s. you are NOT irresponsible, quite the opposite, you must be a really lovely person, a lot of people wouldn't have gone to that trouble (such a cute doggy too).

    I hate when people don't look after their pets or are cruel to them; I grew up with 3 cats and a dog and while we let them roam around (I grew up on a property), we looked after them really well and made sure they were home at night. We didn't microchip back then but they always had collars and ID and were well loved as part of our family.

    p.s. My childhood doggie (a beautiful collie/golden retriever cross) was a puppy we found in our neighbourhood and after a month of looking for her owner, nobody turned up so she became my dog (I was so happy about this). Some people shouldn't own pets.

    Great post :)


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