Christmas Is The Season Of Giving, But Reconsider Before Giving Animals As Gifts

Christmas is a magical season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas itself, the holiday season is always fun, and there’s the winter solstice, the lights, and a perfectly good excuse to eat all sorts of scrumptious treats that aren’t normally around the rest of the year. The holidays are also a season of giving, a time when people plot the perfect surprises for their loved ones.

But the thousands of animals given as Christmas presents each year, which bring joyful ecstasy to humans on Christmas morning, all too often end up suffering the heartbreak of abandonment, themselves,  within just a few months time. Already, the farm postings and Facebook groups are swelling with adverts.

Christmas Pony: Nice little mare, broke to ride. Been sitting in the field for the grandkids to play on for the last few years. Perfect Christmas surprise for that special child!*

a) fat grey cresty neck.jpg

The accompanying photo shows a sweet-eyed mare with a cheerful expression, but who also displays symptoms of obesity, protruding eyes, and irregular “fat packs” which are indicative of cushings disease, or other metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance. Both health conditions are chronic, and can cause worse complications like founder and even death. They require an owner with an experienced  grasp of equine care and management, and sometimes even the best care isn’t enough to get a handle on particularly difficult cases.

The Perfect Christmas Project! Quiet gelding, great for Christmas, just needs some love and attention.*

0f6d64b40c778c320753509c8b9da6aa

The gelding is attractive, and of decent conformation, but the hard edge of his top line, and washboard of his sides, indicate that he’s not necessarily in top form, and likely is in need of groceries, something which can drastically change the temperament of an animal in the long run. Many times “love and attention” can be equated to training, manners, and handling, meaning that the horse might not even be accustomed to grooming, much less riding.

Beneath the adverts for ponies, horses, donkeys, mules, pigmy goats and other domestics come more unexpected offerings. A bearded dragon in need of rehoming, a ball python whose hot room has been transformed into a nursery for the new baby, a sugar glider whose owners have adopted a cat, and can no longer assure the safety of the former. Oscars who’ve outgrown their fish tanks, a scarlet macaw whose elderly owner has passed away, servals, a skunk with its scent glands removed–already litter trained! If ferrets are too average, there are spotted genets. For those with a healthy budget, and a little more room, there are capybaras (starting at around $600) or you can always go for a wallaby ($3,000) and for folks who like to be trendy with their furry companions, fennec foxes are the new hotness these days (less than half the wallaby) at about $1,500, but get on the list of a breeder now, because there’s usually a waiting list of a year or more)

The massively ignored problem with every animal I’ve mentioned (never mind the excruciatingly horrible issues of animal trafficking and captive breeding of the exotic species listed) is that all of them come with baggage. Needs, expenses–sometimes exorbitant ones–and unforeseen complications. Many times those complications are ones which require a considerable amount of knowledge about the animal in question, thus leaving first time owners at a loss as to what to do, and how to care for the now ill or injured animal.

Something as simple as not providing a suitable place for a tortoise to burrow can result in the tortoise becoming egg-bound, a condition which will result in death if it is not promptly treated. That treatment can require risky surgery. Lizards can also become egg-bound. Most types of exotic cats, foxes, primates, and other popular, more unusual, animals, can become aggressive if not appropriately housed, handled, or mentally and emotionally cared for. Some become aggressive even when everything is done to standard protocols.

With normal domestic animals, certain risks remains. Rabbits are prone to coccidiosis, especially when stressed, goats can also suffer from it, and it’s highly contagious. Both kittens and puppies tend to chew things, and can ingest foreign objects. Christmas decorations offer a plethora of options for getting into trouble, and with a house full of holiday guests, new pets can easily do so unnoticed. Many times once symptoms of a problem develop, a bad situation has already evolved into a worse one.

Christmas lilies, or Easter lilies, for example, are extremely toxic to both cats and dogs, and just a fragment of a leaf, once ingested, can cause catastrophic kidney failure. Treatment does not guarantee recovery, and involves (usually) 48-72 hours of continuous intravenous fluids, to flush their system. But forcing so much fluid into an animal has its own complications, and it can cause dangerous imbalances in electrolytes and other minerals, and functions, so constant monitoring is required. Conservatively, the treatment for lily poisoning will run you $2,000 and it can easily cost more. I know this firsthand, because I’ve had to pay it.

Cost of veterinary care is probably the number one reason animals–some of them absolutely beloved pets whose owners are completely devastated to lose them–are surrendered to shelters or rescues. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have with a particular breed or species, if they suffer injury or illness that’s going to cost you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to treat, and you don’t have thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars laying around in the couch cushions, you’re going to have huge decisions to make. Likely, the choice of giving the animal up to a rescue or foundation which can pay for treatment, or having the animal euthanized to stop it from suffering.

Back in the barn there’s the matter of horses which have been docile while underfed (not necessarily through neglect, but maybe because they just haven’t been getting grain, which offers much higher protein) but who become wild and unpredictable once they’ve got sugars and energy flowing through them. Colic is a constant danger, and no matter how much you know about equines, torsion can strike no matter what. It’s excruciatingly painful, far more so than impaction colic, and this inescapable pain often turns the horse suffering it into a living battering ram. Some become uncontrollable without sedation, and if not sedated will literally beat themselves against the ground until they fracture their own skulls, or break legs. And then, eventually, their intestines rupture entirely, and they’ll die of massive septicemia. But they’ll suffer unimaginable agony first.

These things are terrible, and grotesque to picture, and no one wants to ever consider that they might be facing them when they’re thinking about the adorable animals standing or sitting in front of them that “need a home for Christmas”. The reality, however, is that animals, like children, don’t come with manuals, and no matter how prepared you are to have one, you’ll immediately realize that you weren’t as ready as you thought you were. Even if nothing “bad” happens, you’ll still find yourself in situations you never expected to be in, making decisions you never considered facing, and probably spending money you never accounted for losing from your budget.

And I’m just talking about if you give your own family a live animal.

Imagine having someone else giving one of these animals to your kid, or your significant other without even asking you if you want one.

It happens. Way more than you might think.

Now you’ve got an animal you never wanted (or maybe one that you did, but didn’t expect to get at the moment) and a family member who has, of course, instantaneously fallen utterly in love with that animal (because, really, needy animals, Christmas, you know) and you’ve got whomever gave that animal to you/the kids/your partner who’s all “I did a great thing!”

Just, no.

Don’t do it.

Yes, if your old-enough-to-understand-and-care-for-their-own-pet kid wants a kitten, and you’re prepared, you’ve had cats before, but don’t have any currently (which can be very complicated when introducing a new cat or kitten) then okay, consider getting a Christmas kitten (better yet, a Christmas Old Cat, one which will otherwise likely die alone in a shelter, because, well, nobody seems to like old people these days) This can be applied to dogs and puppies, or other rescue animals, too. If you’re already prepared and were planning to do it anyway.

But do not spontaneously decide without forethought to just “take a pet home”. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by sales people, or adopters, or your own freaking kids, to “give the gift of love” right there in the middle of the grocery store parking lot when all you went to the store for was a jar of cranberry sauce. No matter how noble, how well intentioned, these acts might be, they will, in the very best scenarios, still cause you a huge amount of stress, and after-the-fact panic when you realize that you’ve just taken on years of responsibility you didn’t intend to. You might never regret it, but you will go through that stress of Will it work out? In worst case scenarios, you’ll go through that, possibly more stress, terror, loss of money, and maybe the loss of the animal you were trying to help by adopting or buying in the first place.

So, this holiday season, please reconsider before choosing to give a living thing as a present.

Thousands of domestic animals are, indeed, in need of homes. The truth, though, is that these animals are in need of homes 365 days a year. If you would not consider adopting or buying a chinchilla on November 13th, don’t allow yourself to suddenly think doing so is a great idea on December 23rd, because Christmas is just two days away, and this adorable chinchilla “really needs a home for Christmas.” The animals who needs a home for Christmas, probably needed a home long before Christmas, and thousands like them will still need a home after Christmas. You can help these animals best (unless, as I’ve already stated, you’ve had family discussions and are going to get this animal anyway, and are just planning to do it at Christmas to be festive) by donating to the causes which are already caring for them. Go volunteer at a shelter, donate to a rescue center.

Be cautious about adverts for the “perfect” Christmas animal. The animals advertised are completely innocent, but the humans peddling them might well be doing so because they know damn well they stand a much better chance of getting shed of an unwanted animal, while also making a tidy profit off of it for no reason other than, Christmas cheer and spirit.

Animals need us, but they need us all year, not just under the Christmas tree.

 

  • I made these adverts up. However, they are painfully stereotypical of what you’ll see in any farm trade classifieds every Christmas.
  • The first photo of the grey horse was pulled from an excellent article pertaining to insulin resistance in horses posted on the blog The Equinist. It’s a great, enlightening read, even if you aren’t a horse fan.
  • The second photo was pulled from Google. The horse is a recently adopted blue roan mustang, who is actually in excellent muscle and body condition for a young feral horse. It does provide, however, a good example of the sort of “sharp” top line and look that a domestic-bred horse who is a “hard keeper” might affect without grain in their diet.

Author: Artemis Grey

Advertisements

We Are Still Here, And We Are Still Saving Animals

Hello good people of WordPress! Yes, the ICARUS Team really does still exist, and we really are still here! As the main staff writer, our absence from the blog is my failing. I’ve had some health issues, and ended up having to have surgery in October (minor, they just poked holes in me and sent me home with happy pills) and while that surgery was successful (yay for cysts that are no more!) I had recovery, and then right on the heels of surgery travel for my novel writing side of things. Plus, there’s novel writing going on, and it’s a struggle to manage time for everything. Then there was our election… and, yeah, being offline is much healthier for one’s brain right now.

Some of what we’ve been up to while I was failing to get blog posts written and published:

  1. Working on articles which will be posted in the near future.
  2. Traveling (some of us) to places like Chile!
  3. “Blind horse proofing” fields and barns (which includes acclimating the current residents to wearing bells) in preparation for the arrival (really, the homecoming) of a horse recently blinded by disease (uveitis for those interested)
  4. Caring for multiple terminally ill domestic cats.
  5. Helping formulate rehab and release protocols
  6. Helping to organize research bases to perform studies on rehab and release subjects
  7. Moving houses
  8. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving…
  9. And Christmas shopping…
  10. Holding down full time jobs, some of which are mainstream, some of which are the job of conservation, the travel and such that go with it.

 

I’m going to do my very best to set aside time to get blog posts written and up, so there’s never a wide vacancy again as there has been, so start checking back, and you might find some interesting things to read! Thank you everyone for sticking with us on this journey!

The Price of Conservation

Conservation can be many things, and it can occur in many ways. The one constant, however, is that conservation is not free. Maybe you donate time to helping spread public awareness, donate effort in organizing local rallies, or offer both time and effort into joining local protests or pushes for legislation which will protect animals or provide care for animals themselves. Or maybe you choose to donate money to organizations that do all of the above.

ICARUS is a group run by people donating their time, their own money, and all the effort they can muster to help animals all over the world, but we can’t be successful without the help of folks like you. There has been speculation within the comments of some of our posts that we’re somehow affiliated, or funded by Big Cat Rescue. This is not true. We do agree with BCR’s policies of hands-off conservation. However, we have no formal affiliation with them, nor do we receive any funding from them, or any other established conservation organization.

To assert that we’re funded by a group simply because we agree with them and what they do would be to assert that we’re also affiliated with, and funded by, the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ian Somerhalder, Ricky Gervais, Betty White, and countless other celebrities whose conservation efforts we support and agree with. Trust me, if we had funding from such people, you’d know about it because we’d be shouting about it from the rooftops.

The truth is that right now, we’re funding ourselves (much to the agony of our bank accounts) and working by donating time and effort to ICARUS on top of the time and effort devoted to full time jobs elsewhere. Some of us are also balancing other carriers along with full time jobs, and ICARUS work, and the daily care of our own domestic animals. The result is a hectic shell game of time, energy and money that only other animal advocates and owners can understand firsthand. It is worth every moment of struggle, though, to be able to say that what we’re doing is helping animals all over the world. Every movement must start somewhere, with a few steps into the unknown future. Sometimes, you can’t know how things will turn out, but you do know that moving forward is the only way you’ll ever find out the answer.

Such a leap of faith is often the driving force behind conservation projects. It just can’t be the only force behind them. If conservation and animal rescue could be carried out on faith and love alone, then there would never be cases of hoarders or failed rescue centers.

The hard truth is that while conservation efforts can be started with ideals and determination, they must, at some point, also start bringing in monetary support. To this end, the ICARUS project has added a donate button to our blog, and we hope you’ll consider donating to our efforts. Be assured we are seeking funding from many sources, not merely the public but every dollar matters, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Donating just five bucks might mean there’s enough gas to get our field researchers to an undercover animal swap where they can expose illegal activity, or it might mean that they can afford to buy milk replacer for an orphaned baby sloth, bandages for a burned sloth, or it might provide the last money needed to purchase a tracking collar for a to-be-released big cat, the study of which can help with the conservation of that species. No matter how small an amount, any donation will help us continue our research and help animals everywhere.

Rescuing animals is expensive and hard. Often the animals have suffered abuse and neglect. They are difficult, or impossible to handle for bandage changes or medication. You worry about them constantly, and are forced to watch them suffer further during treatment, knowing all the while that they still might die, many times from simple things which were left untreated, things that an animal should never die from. If they do survive, then rehabilitation looms large on the horizon, creating further trials that must be overcome in order to reach true recovery. And I’m just talking about domestic animals. Add the factor of the animal being wild, and completely unaccustomed to human interaction – or accustomed only to abusive interactions – and it takes rescue and rehabilitation to a whole new level of struggle.

These are the kinds of things that the ICARUS field team are dealing with on a daily basis. Watching the suffering of animals, documenting it, and doing what they can to stop it. It wears them down emotionally, physically and mentally, yet the team continues because it’s what they must do in the name of protecting animals all over the world. And along with all of the animal-associated stress they endure, there’s the monetary stress as well, the not knowing if they’ll be supported by others, or if they’ll end up penniless and stranded in a foreign country in the middle of their research. So while twenty-five bucks, or ten bucks might seem pointless to donate, it isn’t. It’s twenty-five dollars that can be used to help save an animal, to help educate those who are exploiting animals, or to help set up communities with options that protect animals, instead of harming them.

Rather than load this post with terrible pictures of suffering animals like those commercials on TV that give us nightmares, I’m using photos from two of my own rescues stories, that of Francesca the miniature Sicilian donkey, and Muffet, the cat. Fran came to us free because the rest of her herd had been sold off and no one wanted her. When she arrived, her condition was a complete shock, and we were forced to choose in a split second whether to turn her away, or take her and pray we could treat her and keep her alive. Muffet was a slightly different story, but both cases involved simple neglect which led to complex medical conditions.

IMG_2074.JPGFran hopped off the trailer about 150 pounds overweight (she stands only about three feet tall at the shoulder) suffering from chronic founder, with feet that had gone untrimmed for years.

IMG_2073.JPG

IMG_2566.JPGOnce her feet had been properly trimmed (all of that growth was ‘dead’ tissue) we had to keep her feet wrapped with dressings. Because the tissue had be grossly stretched, any piece of dirt could travel up into the the depths of her foot, causing an abscess which would then rupture at the juncture of hoof and leg (the coronary band) Each ruptured abscess came with the possibility that the abscess would spread along the coronary band and create an ‘unzipping’ effect that would cause her foot to detach entirely from her leg, a fatal complication. It took over a year of constant dressings on all four feet in order for her feet to grow out and the tissue to resume proper form.

226378_4385109427412_2120300939_nBecause Fran had been neglected, and then put through painful procedures, it took time for her to trust adults again. Children, however, she was instantly drawn to, and protective of. Here she is with my niece, who calls Fran her ‘Donkey-Sister’. The two are inseparable. Fran’s ears are abnormally shaped due to untreated frostbite, and her tail is only a stump as a result of an untreated wire wound, which became infected and caused her tail to fall off. Her ears and tail stump still require maintenance, as she’s susceptible to both sun burn, and frostbite. The black object on Fran’s nose in the header photo is a grazing muzzle which restricts how much grass she can consume. Donkeys are incredibly efficient processors of food, therefore in lush areas like Virginia, artificial restrictions must be used in order to prevent them from overeating, and foundering. This can mean keeping them in a dirt lot, or utilizing a grazing muzzle which only allows her to consume small quantities at a time.

IMG_8733Muffet was another case of simply not caring. She at some point received a minor injury, possibly just a scratch, which became infected.

IMG_7354.JPGWithout treatment, this infection created an abscess which then became infested with maggots. Over a thousand were removed from the wound.

IMG_7498.JPGHere’s the site several days after the initial debridement and suturing. The skin required careful monitoring as it healed.

IMG_7443.JPGThough suffering, Muffet was much easier to treat than Fran, as she was at least accustomed to human interactions, whereas Fran had been abandoned in a large field and left to fend for herself for several years.

Both of these cases of neglect cost thousands of dollars to treat and months/years of attention, and the cost would have been higher if I didn’t have the skills to perform tasks like dressing changes and suture removal. Now, imagine relatively simple situations like this with wild animals who cannot even be touched without sedation. Imagine the time, and effort and skill required to treat wild animals.

Yes, conservation carries a high price, both literally, and figuratively. We hope that you will help the ICARUS group by donating to our research and conservation efforts, no matter the size of the donation, and then share our page, and help spread the word. It is our hope that in the future, there will be no need for anyone to donate to conservation, because we hope that conservation itself will become obsolete, and that care for the natural world will become the norm. Until then, we need your help so that we can help animals in need all over the world.

Author: Artemis Grey