I never understood what the song that goes “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” really was about. It just sounded kind of cool back in the day (1969). You know, he ain’t heavy, but he’s groovy, man.
The phrase originates, as far as I can tell, from a story about Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan as a community for homeless and troubled boys. One boy wore leg braces, and the other boys would take turn carrying him on their backs. One of these boys is reputed to have said, when asked, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” A lovely story. True? I don’t know. But there are several statues titled Two Brothers at Boys Town, and the line made it into the movies in which Spencer Tracy portrays Father Flanagan.
This isn’t about my brother. I wrote about my own brother not so long ago. This is about 2 brothers, Ringo and Tiger, and their special relationship and what they’ve been through together. Ringo and Tiger are, of course cats, not humans.
Ringo and Tiger are very special cats, and I feel privileged to be a part of their human fan club. To put it bluntly, these cats would likely have been euthanized in many other shelters. They are 9 years old, which is considered “senior” in the world of cats, although it is the equivalent of only 52 in human years. So at almost 56, if I were a cat (oh, what a thought!) I would be a senior, even though I don’t think of myself as one at all as a human.
Ringo is termed “morbidly obese” at 18 pounds. Tiger has cancer, and is not exactly a petite guy himself at 12 pounds. They’ve been together all of their lives. They were surrendered by their guardian to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, from where they were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma.
Two very lucky cats indeed. According to the ASPCA, every year 5 to 7 million pets enter the shelter system. More than half of these are cats, of which approximately 70% (yes, 70) are euthanized. And who are most likely to be euthanized? Guess. Older cats and cats with medical issues. Ringo and Tiger are defying the odds.
Ringo is a laid-back cat, loves to sleep on the bed with his people and follow them around, and gets along with everyone! Tiger is sweet, sociable, and loves to cuddle. Those are pretty good dating, I mean adoption, profiles.
Because they have been together all of their lives and are attached to each other as one would imagine they would be, they are a bonded pair, meaning they have to be adopted together. Another factor that means it will be just a little harder to find a home for them.
Ringo obviously doesn’t carry Tiger on his back. But Ringo could live a long and healthy life if his adopter works with a veterinarian on a careful weight loss plan. Tiger’s potential life span is not known, but his adopter would basically be taking him in for hospice care. It will be a special person or family with big hearts who will take these brothers into their lives. It will be worth it. And I know that person or family is out there.
Best of all, at ARF Ringo and Tiger have a great room to stay in together, they get love and attention from the staff and volunteers, and they have all the time they need to find their human family. I take great pride in working in a system that allows for cats like Ringo and Tiger a chance to start a new life. Please support in whatever way you can your local shelter so they can help more animals in need. And do consider a senior and/or special needs pet. They need love too, and will add so much to your life.
You can help support the work of Wings of Rescue as well.
Peace and hugs. And meows and purrs from Ringo and Tiger.
I woke up thinking about the little girl I never had, who I wrote about a little bit in Broken Dreams. In my fantasies, she loves to do the things I love to do. We would read together, I would teach her how to cook, of course she’d love animals, and we’d fingerpaint whenever possible. But maybe she wouldn’t have enjoyed these things. She might have prefered super heroes and running outside, climbing trees, and getting into mischief. Or maybe she would have been a math and science whiz, and smarter than me! Or maybe she’d have been all kinds of things. And of course I would have loved her no matter what.
Maybe in a science fiction movie or some weird clinic somewhere, you can put in your order of what your child will be, but it doesn’t work that way for the most part. On internet dating sites, you can look all you want for that perfect person who meets all of your criteria, but no one is exactly perfect and we shouldn’t expect them (or ourselves) to be so.
Working with adopters at an animal shelter, every day I talk with someone with very exact criteria of what they are looking for. For example: a small, white, hypoallergenic dog who is house-trained, doesn’t bark, likes kids, cats, other dogs, and can be left alone all day. Or a short-haired female kitten who is snuggly, playful, good with small children, dogs, chickens, litter-box trained, won’t scratch the couch, and just this shade of brown tabby. These are not realistic parameters.
I’ll try to direct people to what I think are good fits for what they describe, but then they also expect to feel an instant bond, for the animal to look into their eyes and give them the sign that “this is the one”. Much like when we are meeting people, friendship can be slow to develop. Love at first sight is common in movies, but not so much in real life. We need to spend time together, get to know each other, and look beyond the superficial traits to the ones that really matter.
Love at first sight might not turn out well. Look what happened to Romeo and Juliet, or to Tony and Maria.
Picking a companion animal based on looks often fails. Take the ubiquitous family with toddlers and an older dog who insist that the big beautiful young German Shepherd is the perfect dog for their family despite what we tell them about breed traits, jumpiness, keeping working dogs both physically and mentally engaged, energy levels, etc. Yes, sometimes it works beautifully. And sometimes the dog will be returned to the shelter within days for “being more than they could handle” or “knocks the children over” or “doesn’t get along with resident dog”.
It reminds me of women who yearn after the cute bad boy only to find out later what a jerk he really is, while the really nice guy has been sitting there all along. All of her best friends warned her, but she wouldn’t listen. Of course this is a common movie theme, much like love at first sight, but it happens. Trust me. I have an ex-husband out there.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that people are coming to the shelter rather than going to pet stores or breeders. Sometimes love at first sight works for the human and the dog or cat. Just the other day a young woman took home a scruffy little dog who had been returned once already; she met him and loved him, went home to think about, and came back about an hour later, hoping he was still available, because she was sure he was right. And I believe it. They were perfect together.
Sometimes the so-called “imperfect” ones, the one-eyed cat or the three-legged dog, are the most awesome friends you could ever ask for. And they deserve a chance at love and a good life just as much as any others. It’s what I call the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree approach. Love and attention made that tree beautiful; it was the one nobody else wanted but Charlie Brown saw that it needed him and it showed itself to be the special tree that it was all along.
What frustrates me is people who come in having seen a picture of an animal on the shelter’s web site. They want that one. Only that one. They don’t want to meet any other animals. And if the one they want has been adopted or isn’t perfect when they meet, they aren’t willing to meet a different dog or cat. Maybe the one you haven’t considered is the one for you. Think about it. It doesn’t hurt to give love a chance.
Disclosure: I am writing this to fulfill an assignment for Introduction to Humane Education, a wonderful course in my first semester as a Humane Education PhD student at Saybrook University in conjunction with Valparaiso University and the Institute for Humane Eduction. I am reading The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird (awesome names). The assignment is to bring these elements to others through my teaching. Since I am not a teacher in a clssroom, I am applying the elements to how I might approach pet adoptions during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. The views expressed are solely those of the author, not of any organization. I am paraphrasing the 5 elements, not quoting the authors.
So, you want to adopt a shelter pet?
Element 1: Examine your understanding of the basics.
Why do you want a pet? Ask yourself why you want a pet. You might be surprised at the real reason and it might be that a pet is not right for you or it is not the right time. The following are responses I’ve heard and my reaction to them:
“My kids keep asking for a dog/cat.” Not the best reason if it’s the only reason. Knowing as the parent that unless your kids are extraordinary you will be doing a lot of the pet care (and paying the expenses), do you want a pet? And why does your kid want a pet? If it’s because of a cute movie like 101 Dalmatians, chances are the pet will end up back at the shelter. Celebrities with pets are often not good role models either.
“I want a cat to catch mice.” or “I want a guard dog.” At shelters, we are looking to place companion animals as members of families, not working animals. And we can’t guarantee that a cat will be a mouser.
“I want a present for my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/child/children.” Are you sure the recipient wants a pet? Wouldn’t it be better for them to meet the pet, and make the choice themselves? Giving pets as surprise gifts is not encouraged. At the East Bay SPCA everyone in the household must be on board and present to meet potential adoptive pets.
“I have a cat/dog at home who is lonely and needs a friend.” Maybe. Maybe not. Do you know your pet gets along with other animals? Maybe your cat/dog is happy as an only pet. If you have a dog and want another, be prepared to bring your dog in to meet potential adoptees; it’s required at the East Bay SPCA.
“I love animals, grew up with them, can’t imagine life without them and have done my homework on adoption.” First, I will ask for permission to hug you. Then I will start introducing you to the animals. Gold star!
We will get to more questions in Element 3: Ask questions!
Element 2: Learn from your mistakes.
Meet several potential animals and find the temperament that is right for you. Take your time and find the right fit. If you meet an animal that you don’t connect with, figure out why and look for a pet with the characteristics that would facilitate a connection. Some people want lap cats, some want aloof cats, some want dogs that they can dress up, some want dogs that will go jogging with them. Are you a couch potato? A highly energetic pet won’t be the right one. There are couch potatoes waiting for you at the shelter, too! An older person might do well to consider an older pet. Senior pets are wonderful! Some animals might be shy at first; is that okay with you or do you want instant bonding? Don’t feel shy about having a conversation with the shelter staff or volunteer helping you; they generally know the animals and can make recommendations based on what you are looking for. And remember, it’s not all about looks. Personality is much more important!
Once you find the pet that you think is the one, it’s time for adoption counseling.
Element 3: Raise questions!
When adopting a pet, there are many issues to think about and at the East Bay SPCA, a volunteer adoption counselor or a staff associate will guide you through some questions and answer any you have. For example:
Where will the pet sleep at night? With you? In a crate? (Please don’t say outdoors.)
What behaviors can you tolerate and what not? Have you ever dealt with problem behaviors in pet before? There are ways to correct behaviors if you are willing to put in the effort.
Do you have the willingness to deal with litter boxes or picking up after your dog? Potty training a dog?
Have you considered the cost of toys, grooming, veterinary services? At the East Bay SPCA, you will be informed if they are aware of any pre-existing medical issues, but the cost of care will be yours.
Do you have time for keeping your pet from being bored? Dogs need walking, cats need activities.
Do you have your landlord’s permission?
Who will look after the pet if you go on vacation or have an emergency?
The list goes on!
Element 4: Add it all up (look at the “flow” of ideas).
After going through all the pluses and minuses, are you still on board? Have you met a pet that you can do everything in Element 3 for? Do you feel like all of your concerns have been addressed in the adoption counseling? You can change your mind and there won’t be any judgment. The shelter wants what is best for you and the animal. Don’t feel obligated!
Element 5: Embrace change!
If you adopted an animal companion, congratulations! Your life will change, for the better. The human-animal bond has mutual rewards. And if you have children, there will be lots of learning opportunities ahead. If you didn’t adopt, think about why not. Did you decide maybe the best pet for you isn’t a dog or a cat but some other small animal? There are plenty of private rescue groups for rabbits, birds, all kinds of creatures. Oakland Animal Services, not too far from the East Bay SPCA, has other small animals for adoption. Maybe a younger pet takes more time and energy than you have so you want to look into senior pets. Or if you realized it’s not the right time for you but you’d still like to be involved with animals, you could look into volunteering at a shelter. And start planning for the future when the time is right.
This week is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week; consider making a donation, becoming a volunteer, and/or adopting a pet in need!