There are so many inspirational organizations and people who work tirelessly to help make the world a better place for incredible animals like Antoine. We want to share some of their stories with you. We chatted with Sharon Seltzer, the founder of Heaven Can Wait Animal Society and the website Lessons From a Paralyzed Dog, a community for people caring for a paralyzed pet. Sharon provides tips and advice on the care and treatment of handi-capable pets. Here is her story:
What inspired your love of animals that led you to help found Heaven Can Wait Animal Society?
Like a lot of people, I have always loved being around any kind of animal. I was the kid who brought home stray dogs and cats and even the occasional lost lizard or snake. I learned about homeless animals from an aunt and an older cousin. My aunt fostered dogs for a rescue group. It was always fun to go to her house and see “who” was staying with her. I loved hearing their rescue stories. My cousin rescued St. Bernard’s. You can imagine what her house was like. Such fun memories.
I was already volunteering at the animal shelter in Las Vegas, where I live, when I heard about some acquaintances who wanted to start a rescue group. There were 5 of us: Harold and Rachel Vosko, Pete Larez, Nicole Dutt-Roberts and me. We founded Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. It was January 2000 and Las Vegas was euthanizing 30,000 healthy, adoptable pets EVERY year. At first we thought we would build a beautiful resort-like sanctuary where we could bring dogs and cats from the municipal shelters. Our goal was to socialize them and rehome them.
Pete is an architect so we used his skills to put together a wonderful sanctuary with private homes for the pets, play areas, parks and more. It was going to be epic!
What was its mission and how has it changed?
During the first year, we also talked with lots of successful rescue groups around the country. Those conversations led to us changing our focus to prevention. We decided it was better to prevent unwanted dogs and cats from being born so our goal became aggressive spay/neuter. Our mission is: To eliminate companion animal suffering and pet overpopulation through aggressive spay/neuter, adoptions, community outreach programs and education.
The best part is the 30,000 animals euthanized has decreased tremendously. We are slated to be at 7,000 for 2017 and 5,000 for 2018.
You can read more about our programs at: www.hcws.org.
Your dog Sophie’s story exposed a lack of available information for disabled pet owners. Could you talk a bit about your website “Lessons from a paralyzed dog.”
I have loved all of my dogs, but Sophie was always special to me, even before she got sick. She was a born-leader who loved life. Sophie’s legs started slipping out from under her during the summer of 2008. At first I thought it was a sign of old age, but when it happened on a regular basis I took her to our veterinarian. We had a series of tests done and everything came back in conclusive. We guessed it was a form of Degenerative Myelopathy because it progressed like DM. It was a scary time because I knew what was coming. In 6 months Sophie’s hind legs were completely paralyzed and she was incontinent. My vet thought I was crazy to keep her alive, but I saw the will in her eyes to live. She enjoyed life and was healthy other than her hind legs. I didn’t get any support from the veterinarian about what treatment or devices were available for us.
It sent me on a journey to find the items to help us: I found harnesses, slings, wheelchairs, proper bedding, diapers, boots and more. I learned the best way to care for a dog who can’t walk. I learned how to express her bladder, keep pressure sores from forming, rehab exercises, games to keep her engaged and lots more. Then we continued our life with Sophie for 5 years. Our family had a new normal way of life. Then in early 2013 Sophie got sick. She passed away from cancer on April 20, 2013.
It wasn’t until after Sophie’s death that I felt compelled to share Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog. I didn’t want another pet owner to feel alone and without resources when they received the diagnosis that their dog would never walk again. Today my website has grown into a community for pet owners. We still discuss the basic care of a disabled pet, but now we also discuss the latest treatments , clinical trials for future treatments, new products and all sorts of wonderful organizations that help dogs and cats with disabilities. Plus it includes the lessons I learned from Sophie.
What is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from working with and writing about disabled animals over the years?
Pets with disabilities do not feel sorry for themselves. They may need a little extra help, but they can still lead long and happy lives.
If you could share one message about disabled pets what would it be?
I have two messages for owners with disabled pets. The first is for owners to be patient with themselves. Learning to care for a paralyzed dog or cat takes time and paying attention to the particular needs of your individual animal. That leads to the second message which is, every paralyzed pet is unique and so is their condition. There are many forms of paralysis and even when two dogs are given the same diagnosis; the dog’s temperament, age and a host of other factors will make treatment and daily care unique. It is okay to try new treatments and products until you find the ones that work best. And it is equally okay to come to the conclusion that your dog or cat has come to the end of their journey. I like to look at owners of disabled pets as being part of a club they never wanted to join, but they are making the best from being part of it.
Follow Sharon on Twitter @Petrescuemomma