LAA & TCH Raised $9,000 at Meow & Chow

The ninth annual Meow and Chow, which took place the evening of October 27, raised $9,000 for Lincoln Animal Ambassador and The Cat House.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are grateful to the numerous businesses and individuals that donated food and prizes. Attendees dined on a selection of 18 soups, a dozen breads, and several desserts. About 100 prizes were won through numerous bingo games and raffle drawings. In addition, 75 people won M&M bags of various sizes.

Appreciation goes to Nature’s Variety for sponsoring the fundraiser and the Center for People in Need for offering the venue space. Also invaluable were the 50 volunteers working behind the scenes.

LAA and TCH also thanks the 200 diners who showed support by attending the event and buying raffle tickets.

By 5:30 p.m., energy ran high among diners as each table awaited their turn in the food line. Sharon, who has attended for several years, said she came to support a good cause and to reconnect with people in animal welfare. She always looks forward to trying a variety of soups.

After the meal, TCH volunteers Wayne and April Skoda called several games of bingo. Another long-time attendee, Lauren, said she appreciated that the services of LAA and TCH benefit the whole Lincoln community. Prior to attending Meow & Chow she hadn’t ever played bingo, and said she enjoys playing it.

The evening culminated in a raffle that featured an iPad, $250 Target Gift Card, Husker Football tickets for the Illinois game, and two Cat House embroidered red fleece jackets. Another long-time attendee, Mickey, declared that the whole evening was fun. She particularly likes all the opportunities to win prizes.

New this year, 12 diners entered the Halloween costume contest. The three top winners received raffle tickets and an assortment of other prizes. The winning couple dressed as superman and wonder women. Unfortunately, superman himself joked that “his kryptonite necklace may have caused them some advanced aging.”

Both Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are volunteer-run, and proceeds from Meow & Chow go towards their operating expenses. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors addresses the root causes of animal homelessness in the Lancaster County through a voucher-based low-cost spay/neuter program, an income-based pet food bank, and humane education. The Cat House is a no-kill shelter and adoption facility for cats in the Lincoln area. The group also runs a Trap/Neuter/Return program for feral cats.


Kitten 101, According to Nacho, Taco, Queso, and Sopa


The four kittens arrived at their new temporary home. Their pet foster parents took turns welcoming each of them by saying their names and hugging them. Then the pet foster parents quietly slipped out of the room and eased the door shut behind them.

The four kittens looked up and down and around their room. They whimpered a little, and then were drawn to a cat bed that had a familiar smell. The kittens realized it was a bed from their previous home and were comforted to have found something familiar in this new place. Nacho wrapped his paws around his siblings, and they snuggled into him. He could feel them quivering and tried to reassure them.

NACHO: What did mom say to look for? Water, food, and litter box. All check!

QUESO: I miss our last foster home.

SOPA: I can’t sleep.

TACO: It’s too quiet. There are no children.

NACHO: There’s also a people bed, a scratching post, and lots of cat blankets!

The other kittens peeked over the top of their bed. Their eyes scanned left and right. The walls were a calming ocean green color. Bright sunshine danced across the hardwood floor. But nothing cheered them. They hunkered back into their bed.

Nacho tried again to boost their spirits. He reported that there were fluffy pillows and a thick comforter on the people bed. Queso shrugged and Sopa turned her head away, but Taco sat up to check out the room for herself.

TACO: I dare you to climb the people bed!

QUESO: Let me sleep.

NACHO: There are lots of toys here. Who wants to play?

SOPA: I want mom.

The door to their room opened, and the pet foster parents entered with bowls. They placed the bowls under the foot of the bed. The kittens could see that two were full of water. Now they were scooping food into the other bowls. They stopped to smile at the kittens. They reached out their hands and gently patted each of the kittens on the head. The woman told them they were cute and took something out of her pocket. Then she snapped a picture.

None of the kittens moved until the pet foster parents had gone. Only then did they venture out of the bed to eat. After their tummies were full, they immediately returned to their bed.

The evening stretched into night. One by one the kittens yawned. Purrs arose from them as they fell asleep, holding and comforting one another.


The first rays of a new day filtered into the room and woke Nacho. He wanted to explore their new home, but he didn’t want to disturb the others. Instead he stayed perfectly still and tried to think of how he’d help them adjust once again to a new home.

Queso began to toss and turn, knocking the others out of bed. They glared at her and sleepily crawled back into bed. But by now everyone was awake.

QUESO: When are our new foster pet parents going to come see us?

SOPA: Maybe they’ve abandoned us?

TACO: Or maybe they’re just giving us quiet time?

NACHO: Exactly! I think our pet foster parents are being smart. Think of everything that’s happened in the past few days. Mom was brought back to her outside home. We went to that place where they made us sleepy and we woke up with thread on our bellies. Now we’re in a new place. Our pet foster parents are giving us time to recover from all the changes.

The girls turned their back to Nacho. They knew he was right, but they still felt unhappy and so they didn’t like his answer.

Nacho patted Taco on her head. Taco licked Nacho’s face. Even if they didn’t know what lied ahead, they were safe and warm and in a good place, and so she was ready to be happy again.

TACO: Don’t humans sleep at night? Maybe they’re not up yet?

QUESO: Tell us a story, Nacho.

NACHO: If I were to tell my pet foster parents one thing….

TACO: No! I want a story, not school!

NACHO: It’s not us who needs school. It’s our new pet foster parents. We need to talk about what we need to teach them. First is food and water. We’re already three months old, so we’re big enough to eat on our own. But we’re also still growing, so we need lots of food. Our pet foster parents should feed us two, three, four times a day. We should have as much food as we’ll eat until we’re about six months. And our water dishes should be emptied, washed, and refilled once or twice a day.

TACO: This is what we need to teach our pet foster parents about the litter box. It should be scooped a couple of times per day to keep it clean. Every few days, they should dump the litter, clean the box, and replace with new litter. And here’s the most important thing: because we’re kittens, our pet foster parents need to use non-clumping litter. If we eat clumping litter, it could clump inside us and make us sick.

SOPA: Ew! Why would I eat litter?

TACO: To find out what litter tastes like.

SOPA: You’re weird.

TACO: Seriously, we might not even be trying to the litter. It could just stick to our paws, and when we lick our fur, we could accidentally swallow the litter.

QUESO: You forgot to say that our pet foster parents shouldn’t overfeed us. It’s not healthy for us. We’ll tire out faster and get more diseases from being overweight.

NACHO: Someone’s been listening to the pet channel….

QUESO: And you forgot to say that if we get sick, the litter should get changed more often, and our foster pet parents should ask the shelter about taking us to the vet.

NACHO: Now you’re just showing off!

QUESO: Can I talk about vet care?

TACO: No! We just got back from the vet.

QUESO: This is what our pet foster parents should know about vet care. We’re been tested for worms and intestinal parasites. Some kittens can get fleas (but we didn’t!) and will need to be treated for them. Because we’re kittens we’ve already gotten some immunizations to protect us against diseases. We’ll also need more in our first year.

TACO: Are you proud of the big words you used?

SOPA: She kept me awake one day practicing them!

QUESO: And on our last trip to the vet, we got fixed so that we can’t have babies.

TACO: Babies? We’re still babies ourselves!

NACHO: But cats can have babies as young as four months.

SOPA: You should also add that as kittens, we need to be watched carefully for signs of illness. If we don’t drink or eat or pee or poop in a day, we need to see the vet. If we vomit or have diarrhea, we need to see the vet. If our eyes are watery or our noses start to run, we should see the vet. If our tummy hurts or swells, or if we’re coughing or finding it hard to breathe, we should see the vet.

TACO: Whew! That’s a lot to remember.

QUESO: Shh! I hear footsteps!

This time after preparing breakfast for the four kittens, the pet foster parents sat on the floor next to the kittens. The four kittens exchanged glances. Nacho stretched and then hopped out of the bed. He was hungry and wasn’t going to let the presence of people stop him! Nacho ran to a bowl, and then looked over his shoulder at his siblings who were slowly following him. He knew they’d follow his example, and so he turned and sniffed the hands of the pet foster parents before digging into the food. The girls stared at the humans, and then darted to a second bowl of food.

Bellies full, the four kittens meowed to one another. Nacho returned straight to the pet foster parents. He butted his head against the man, then the lady, and purred. He loved people! Taco saw laces on the shoes of the man and began to poke at them. Then she saw a plastic ball that had been at their first home. She ran up to it and batted happily at it. She was even more excited when the man threw it for her to chase. The other two girls darted up to, then darted away from the humans, and then back again. They exchanged nose rubs with Nacho. After that, they scampered after Taco to play, but kept peeking back at their new foster pet parents. So much to see and to do!



The four kittens grew more and more delighted with everything they were figuring out. For instance, now that they’d stopped moping and started exploring, they’d discovered more than one of the comforts from their first foster home. The cat bed, the curved scratching post, and even all the toys except the catnip sticks had made the journey with them.

They’d also discovered a new scratching post, one with a nook where they could hide. Then there the tons of cat blankets, all of which smelled fresh, as if they were new or at had least been washed clean of the scent of other cats.

But better than all of these was the people bed!

it was huge! It towered above their heads! The bed had taken the kittens a few tries to climb it. They had to use the sheets hanging over the side to scramble to the top. Nacho and Taco had also found they could hoist themselves up by using the legs of their pet foster parents.

Once on the bed, the four kittens liked taking turns to strut along the headboard as if it were a balance beam Queso and Sopa enjoyed leaning over the footboard and surveying the play action. The footboard was also a great way for Nacho and Taco to launch themselves after toys.

The four kittens were even torn about whether to continue sleeping in their bed or to use the people bed. The decision was made when the man slept in it the third night. After lots of meowing and staring, the four kittens snuggled up next to the man for a very, very, very long nap.

SOPA: Is he dead?

QUESO: He can’t be. His chest is moving.

TACO: Don’t humans sleep for ALL night?

SOPA: They’re weird.

NACHO: But they’re also warm and soft. I like snuggling with them.

QUESO: I don’t like that they want us to meet new people.

SOPA: Me either. I hate change.

TACO: I just want to stay with our pet foster parents forever.

QUESO: Tell us a story, Nacho.

NACHO: If I were to tell my pet foster parents one thing….

TACO: Fine! More facts! This is what we need to teach our pet foster parents about play. Handling and playing with us at least once a day will help us release our energy and build a bond with them. We’d welcome playing a few times day for at least ten minutes. If those playtimes are consistent, we’ll come to look forward to them. I like when they toss mice and balls for us to chase. My favorite is what they call danglers because they fly around me and above me, so they’re hard to catch. But when I do catch them, it’s fun to snag them out of the air or tackle them to the floor.

QUESO: How about what they call an air purifier?

SOPA: I don’t think that’s a toy. I think it’s to keep our room from getting too stinky

NACHO: Someone’s been listening to people talk.

TACO: I like what they call a laptop.

SOPA: Me too. I could watch it all day!

QUESO: You forgot to say that playing with us will cut down on our urge to bite and scratch and other naughty stuff. They shouldn’t let us play with their fingers or to chew on their toes. If they do, we’ll never outgrow those bad habits.

NACHO: This is what our pet foster parents need to know about socializing. The more positive experiences we have the better. This way we’ll grow into well-adjusted adults. They should expose us to all kinds of different noises and parts of the house. They should groom us every week and get us familiar with a crate so that we won’t hate them taking us places. They should introduce us to new people, new pets, and to those small humans. And it helps to reward us with lots of treats so that we’ll our new experiences

TACO: Mom didn’t have any that because she lived outside, and so that’s why she’s afraid of people. But she wanted us to have a better life, which is why she gave birth to us in the window well of a house. She said socializing was the most important thing we could learn. We need to keep meeting new people, even if we don’t always like it.

SOPA: But why does everything important have to be so hard?

QUESO: It just is. Besides, maybe all the visitors we meet will be as nice as our pet foster parents.

TACO: Duh! Our foster pet parents invited them, didn’t they?

Later that day, the expected visitors came, and the kittens were ready for them. The mom and her son followed the foster pet parents into their room. At first, they sat on the floor with the kittens and just let the kittens come up to them. Then the visitors began to pick the kittens up one by one. Who could resist their cute faces?

Soon the kittens warmed up to the visitors, which meant it was playtime! Nacho and Taco tumbled about a blanket that had been laid on the floor to provide extra warmth. The girls batted toys back and forth to one another. The visitors laughed at their antics, and the pet foster parents took pictures.

Then the boy grabbed one of the toys. The two shyer kittens stared at him, not sure what to expect. He moved the ball to the right and then to the left. The girls sat up and their heads moved as the ball moved. The boy moved the ball to the right and left again. Nacho and Taco stopped to watch. The boy eyed them, and then proceeded to move the ball up and down. Now all the kittens were watching the ball.

Suddenly he threw the ball. The kittens dashed after it. The ball bounced and rolled here and there. The kittens tumbled over one another trying to catch it. But Nacho was bigger and faster, and he got to it first. He batted it to Taco, who batted it to Queso, who batted it to Sopa. Then the boy picked up the ball again, the kittens watched, and the boy threw it again.

After many rounds of this, the mom told her son it was time for them to go home. The kittens watched them go, and then clambered onto the people bed to rest. The pet foster parents laid with them and looked through all the pictures they’d taken. Then they left, returning shortly to change water, food, and litter, and to straighten up the bedding.

When the foster pet parents left, the kittens yawned and stretched. One by one they jumped off the bed, hungry after their day of adventure. As soon as they’d eaten, they returned to the bed and watched the waning daylight through the window.

QUESO: I heard our pet foster parents say that they were going to show our photos to their friends, and that maybe that would help find us our forever homes.

SOPA: We’re going to have a good future.

NACHO: Once upon a time, there were four kittens who each needed a home. They lived with one foster family, and then a second. Both families cared for them, and so those kittens grew up safe. They had everything they could want. Food, water, shelter, plenty of toys, and tons of adventures, and so they grew up feeling loved….

Guest Post: 10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Adopt A Cat


It feels good to save a life.

A lot of shelter animals are living on borrowed time. Even the no-kill shelters can only let a cat in if there’s room. In any case, the street is no home at all for a cat that needs food, shelter and love. Someone who adopts a cat isn’t just a cat owner, they’re a life saver.

When you adopt a cat, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did something worthwhile. Take in a shelter animal and you have a friend for life!

You get beautiful and one of a kind companion.

Kitty mills are just that. Mills, practically factories to make the same cat over and over. Who needs a copycat? If you come to a shelter you can find the cat that’s just right for you. You are a unique individual, so you should get a cat who’s as singular as you are. Here’s a fun fact: every cat’s coat pattern is unique.

Even cloned calicos have different patterns. Maybe the quiet calico is the right pet for you. Maybe you’d prefer a feisty tabby who shares your taste in music. Maybe an elegant Siamese who loves to be photographed is what you’re looking for. At any rate, there’s only one way to find out. And that’s to get out there and adopt!

You get to take a stand against animal cruelty.

This should be stressed as strongly as the importance of spaying and neutering. Do. Not. Support. The mills. A lot of the kittens at pet stores are from mills unless they specifically say they’re shelter animals. The more responsible pet stores will do all they can to support local animal shelters.

Cats from mills are sick, abused and poorly socialized. The stories of these terrible places are enough to make anyone cry. Those ads with Sarah McLachlan aren’t far from the truth.  Don’t give a dime to anyone who would hurt a kitty cat that way!

You can be an inspiration to others who might adopt.

It’s true. The most effective form of advertisement is word of mouth. When you share your shelter animal story, that makes other people think about adopting. And if they adopt, they might share their adoption story with someone and that could inspire more people to adopt. Before you know it, there’s a whole chain of people lining up to adopt homeless cats and dogs!

If you encourage your friends and family to adopt that means yet another deserving animal finds their forever home and best friend. There are millions of animals in shelters all over America. If you can help make that number just a little smaller, that can mean so much to many homeless creatures.

You can help curb pet over-population.

Kittens sure are cute, but there can too much of a good thing. Next to spaying and neutering, pet adoption is one of the best ways to curb the over-population of pet animals. There are more homeless animals than there are shelters to care for them. What’s more, feral and stray cats are a danger both to themselves and others.

Strays are in constant danger of disease and accidents. A feral cat looking for prey can damage the local environment. Despite a certain popular series of juvenile literature that glorifies the life of a feral feline, the truth is that it’s better for everyone if every cat is a kittypet.

You will get a support system.

Getting a shelter animal isn’t a simple business deal involving handing over the money, getting a cat and going separate ways. People who work in shelters want to help you and Kitty. They helped take care of Kitty until you came along so they know all about her history and personality and will be there to help you learn to be a better pet parent.

If you need advice on house training, grooming or behavior modification, the shelter is there to help you. And you can help them by adopting your next cat from your local animal shelter.

Shelter animals are well cared for.

Shelters aren’t about making money, they’re about taking care of an animal. Cats in shelters are screened for health and behavior problems and those problems are promptly solved. They receive veterinary care including vaccination, parasite treatment, spaying or neutering and often microchipping.

A bedraggled stray with matted fur can be brought to a shelter, get the full make-over treatment and become a beautiful cat you’d never think was skulking around in back alleys just last week. You are guaranteed to start off with a healthy new companion.

You can save money in both short term and long term.

While a shelter might request a fee to cover costs for caring for an animal, it’s substantially lower than what a breeder might ask for.You’ll also save money in the long term. Shelter animals are healthier than mill bred animals, plus mixed-breeds don’t suffer as many ailments as purebreds.

This means lower vet bills and an overall happier pet. A healthy cat is a long-lived cat, meaning you’ll have a pet who will be your constant companion for a long time to come.

You will be helping your community.

Adopting a cat from a shelter is an investment in your community. Your adoption fee goes to the local animal shelter, giving them the means and pet supplies to care for more animals and educate the public on animal care. You’re not just adopting a cat. You could very well be contributing to a billboard advertising the local shelter, leading to more homeless animals getting adopted.

Adoptable cats need you!

They need you! More than anybody! All those homeless kitties need you to take care of them. You laugh, they purr. You cry, they understand. You dangle the string, they grab it. You had a bad day, they fix it. You pick them, they heart you. For more information please consult above infographic.

Reprinted with permission from Mary and Dave Neilson, This article is original in content and not to be reproduced elsewhere in any form. Copyright December 12, 2017. started as a way for the Neilsons to create a single website where other new cat owners could find the answers to all their questions. It’s your one-stop shop for all things cat and kitten! If you’re feline lovers, then you want the absolute best for your four-legged friend. has tons of information about how to best care for your feline throughout every stage of life. From toys, nutrition guides, product reviews, behavior tips, and up-and-coming cat news, has you covered.

Interview with Voice for Companion Animals

Voice for Companion Animals was founded in 2011 to help ensure that companion pets in Nebraska are able to remain with their owners during financial hardships. Often times when an unexpected crisis strikes, pet owners are left with no means to provide for their animals. The non-profit provides pet food and supplies, some medical care, and education to support pet owners throughout Nebraska.

The programs offer only a temporary help; pet owners are asked to take steps towards being self-sufficient. Responsible ownership is encouraged through education on spay & neutering, follow-up with families to ensure appropriate vaccinations are given, and education on how to properly house and feed their pets.

Robyn Mays has been the president of Voice for Companion Animals since 2014. She said that she had been standing in her kitchen and was in shock when founder, Gayla Hausman, called her about taking over. Mays knew that in taking on this role she had “big shoes to fill,” but she’s proud of what Voice for Companion Animals has accomplished for Grand Island.

ALLISON: Why does Voice for Companion Animals focus on prevention?

ROBYN: After over five years in an animal shelter, I was able to see and hear the needs of those pet owners who were looking for options other than surrendering their beloved pet. Many did not want to do it, but they weren’t aware of any other options. Bad things happen, and we wanted to give those people a way to keep their pet. Shelters and rescues are always full. The pet needs to stay in their own home if at all possible.

ALLISON: How many pet owners does your pet food bank serve?

ROBYN: There are 65 pet owners who are served directly through our AniMeals program. We also assist the Howard-Greeley County Food Pantry and our local Salvation Army by providing pet food next to their other food pantry.

ALLISON: How much pet food do you give out per week?

ROBYN: We give out over 700lbs each month in our AniMeals program. We also donate to the other 2 food pantries when we have extra donations.

ALLISON: Do you hand out any other supplies at the pet food bank?

ROBYN: We also provide kitty litter, soft food and treats when we can. Also, we do a holiday gift bag once a year where they also received a pet bed/blanket, toy and treats. Last year, we had volunteers make pet toys. It was a win-win. The kids loved it and the pet owners really enjoyed them.

ALLISON: Share some memorable or touching moments.

ROBYN: A memorable moment involves our holiday gift bags for each of the pet owners in our AniMeals program, the program where we deliver to a senior or a veteran. One year we recruited other volunteers to deliver with us. One individual returned with tears in her eyes and said, “Now I get why you do this. They’re so grateful. It’s awesome!”

ALLISON: Share a little of your background with animals.

ROBYN: Our family has always had pets when I was growing up. I loved cats, but there were other family members who were allergic, so I waited until I moved out before adopting one or two (or three or four).

Then when a new animal shelter was built in Grand Island, I applied to volunteer in the office. During the application process, I was hired as an administrative assistant instead.

Within the next five years, I grew into an Associate Director position. Those five years were spent being involved in just about every aspect of an animal shelter, from assisting with their care, to fundraising, to adoptions, to animal control calls.

ALLISON: Share a little of your background in volunteer work.

ROBYN: I’ve done other volunteering in the past, but animal welfare is who I am. Voice for Companion Animals is an all-volunteer nonprofit, and we are all about the animals and the people who love them. It’s a great day when you get to see the impact we are making in the community, and the community’s response to our mission.

ALLISON: How have you grown in your volunteer abilities?

ROBYN: In the past, I’ve definitely been an introvert. I was happy to be at a desk job and be left alone to do my work. Within the last several years, I’ve changed. As everyone knows, to grow a nonprofit or business, you better get out there. You have to be marketing, administration, and caregiver rolled into one. It’s been an adjustment, but a good one.

ALLISON: What have you learned about animals from being a volunteer?

ROBYN: If we slow down and observe them, they teach us so much. How they feel, who they trust, their likes and dislikes. Mostly, they don’t lie. It is what it is with them.

ALLISON: Why should other pet lovers volunteer?

ROBYN: When looking for a good volunteer or employee, it seemed everyone was saying, “I want to work/volunteer here because I love pets.” That didn’t always equate to a good worker. Some people thought all we did was play with kitties and puppies all day.
One day of volunteering was sometimes all it took to open their eyes. It is work. And sometimes it is awful work.

But then there are days that are completely awesome. Saving a life that would have been euthanized, or seeing a puppy mill dog walk on grass for the first time. These days more than make up for the bad.

ALLISON: Give a tip to future volunteers.

ROBYN: Check your ego at the door. Everyone does whatever it takes, whether loading or unloading donations, delivering food/supplies, cleaning out litterboxes, or doing laundry. The work needs done and the animals are depending on you.

The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey & Purr Prints of the Heart by Deborah Barnes

Once upon a time there was an animal lover who opened her home up to cats. For anyone who reads pet books, there’s nothing new about that plot. So why should you check out the two offerings by Deb Barnes? From the gorgeous and charming artwork to the funny and conversational style, The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey and Purr Prints of the Hearts will certainly warm your heart. If pretty looks and engaging words aren’t enough to woo you, there’s also the fact that Barnes is an excellent storyteller. She deftly draws you into her world and makes you intensely care about what happens next to her cat clan.

In the prologue, Barnes explains the subtitle of A Journey Into the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Most of us like to imagine our lives better than they are. For one lovable male Maine Coon cat named Zee and one wild female leopard inspired Bengal named Zoey, however, Barnes believes that the ordinary is itself a gateway to unlimited adventure. This is true partly because of how cats are, but also because of the way Barnes choose to view her life with them. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And then Zee….” quips Barnes before proceeding to dedicate a chapter to her search for the perfect Maine Coon, a cat intended as a surprise for her sweetheart. She shares of how her criteria changed due to how few Maine Coons were available within driving distance and then how the deadline got altered thanks to an impending hurricane and finally about the arrival of “the chosen Almighty One”. The tale of Zoey’s arrival contains a similar tonal mix of amused and dramatic. “The possibility of getting a Bengal had already been in the back of my mind for quite some time, what with my ever-present obsession and love affair with anything leopard related,” note Barnes, before proceeding to describe Bengals and how the stunning Zoey was a creature to be reckoned with.

But The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey isn’t simply a story of how boxes can become forts and gardens can become jungles for two cats in love. It’s also about the consequences of felines blossoming into adulthood before being spayed/neutered. As is her personality, Barnes embraced the responsibility of being a cat parent while also finding magic in a home overrun by a litter of kittens. Even when the reality settled in of only one adoptive home being found, she issued this declaration: “We brought these cats into our home, so as such we have decided that the love and companionship they bring us far outweigh the scratches and damages incurred in our home.” At times, Barnes has extended apologies for the fact she realized too late how quickly cats can have kittens, but I admire how she allowed her life to be positively changed by that one misjudgment. Not only has she weaved a fabulous adventure about Zee and Zoey, but she’s also become an avid cat advocate.

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing a book is encapsulating the essence of a book into a couple of paragraphs. For example, in the prologue, Barnes writes that The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey wouldn’t actually exist if not for a beloved cat named Kit. Yet up to this point I hadn’t referred to Kit. For that matter, I also neglected to mention the numerous other strays including dogs that found their home with Barnes. The anecdotes that Barnes shares of them are just as engaging as those of her lovebirds, but obviously there’s only so many highlights I can feature. You’ll have to discover who all of the rest of Barnes’ family are by reading The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

But I do need to introduce you to Jazz, as he’s the star of Purr Prints of the Heart. Before Zee became the patriarch of the family, Jazz had been the residing male. Barnes had been watching a pet show and fell in love with the “Ragdoll” breed. She immediately began to do research and found Jazz through the classifieds. Discovering that Jazz came from a hoarding situation, Barnes immediately decided to adopt him. As Jazz progressed from being a kitten to an adult, he developed the quirky habit of playing fetch with wads of paper rolled up into a ball. He also liked tennis and lizards. As Jazz matured, he grew to earn the title: “Mr. Jazzy Grumpy Old Man Leave Me Alone I Don’t Want to Be Bothered.” These details and a few others are all ones that Barnes provides in The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook Page
Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook

In Purr Prints of the Heart, Jazz takes center stage as the narrator of his own tale from start to finish. Jazz shares his dismay of being labeled sick by his original owner. After all, his mom had raised him to believe that he was the most handsome kitten alive and somebody would want him one day because he was special. And when Deb Barnes walked into Jazz’s life, this turned out to be true. Yet at first Jazz wasn’t so sure. Crates, car rides, and quarantines all made him question if his new circumstances were better ones. But then he met Kit, who helped him acclimate. Just as Jazz falls in love with his new home, so I fell in love with Jazz who shared adventures of hurricanes, house renovations, new cat arrivals, change of jobs by the owners, and even saying goodbye to friends. By now, Jazz has begun to understand what Rainbow Bridge means, and to realize that this will soon be his future too. Although I like to avoid those stories which end with the inevitable death of a pet, Purr Prints of the Heart is unique in its approach. By having Jazz narrate his view of sickness and dying, Barnes avoids being sentimental and instead helps all of us owners see how growing old might feel to our beloved pets.

Deb Barnes and I connected about a year ago when I put out a call for articles about pet overpopulation. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch occasionally through email. As someone whose life’s also been forever changed by feline companions, I relate to many of the cat escapades that she shares in her books and on her blog. I also appreciate her dedication to making a difference in the lives of cats. She’s an inspiration to me and I feel honored to have signed copies of her books.

Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

Why Humane Education?

“We have statistics that show that education does improve animal welfare,” said first female Ontario SPCA chief inspector, Connie O’Mallory. She believes education gives people the knowledge and tools to change and cited supporting statistics. She credited education for an increase in animal welfare compliance rates from 57 percent to over 80 percent.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors president, Mary Douglas, expressed a similar sentiment. To her, humane education helps people of all ages and all different walks of life. Animal control officer, Agnes Smith, referred to an interaction with a mother who didn’t know that 70 million dogs and cats are homeless. After hearing one of Smith’s presentations, the family committed to volunteer with and to adopt from an animal welfare group. Douglas also pointed out that, “People who don’t have animals or haven’t had animals don’t have any reference as to how animals should be treated or handled.”

And that’s exactly what humane education is: teaching people how to care for animals. The Humane Education Connections reports that a growing body of research that links childhood animal cruelty to later violent and anti-social behavior. The organization believes that education can break this cycle by replacing it with one of compassion, empathy, and responsibility taught through education.

Humane education is at the core of society’s ethical and moral values to treats animals right, said the host of Community Cats Podcast, Stacey LeBaron. “We use education to help bring those values into any community where we may be unsure if the community as a whole is treating their cats with compassion and care.”

Co-founder of Lakes Animal Friendship Society, Valerie Ingram, said that LAFS operates all its programs on the principle that “healthy, happy animals are part of healthy, happy families and communities”.  She said that many social issues are intertwined, and that animal welfare efforts contribute to moving the whole community forward.

The importance of humane education is backed up by statistics and through anecdotal evidence.

Mary Douglas recalled inviting Mayor Beitler to help with an LAA video about spay/neuter. The mayor was reading text provided to him that listed the numbers of cats and dogs which can be born to one male and female in seven years. Douglas says he looked at her and asked, “Have you researched these numbers?  Are they right?” The numbers she said were accurate but, like the mayor, most people have no idea.

She also talked about her presentation to students. “I love seeing their face when I go through a little example of how fast cats can re-produce.  I get a couple of bags of cotton balls—each cotton ball is a cat—and I show how many cats a male and female cat can have in one year along with their offspring. Then another year, etc.  At the end, we have a huge pile of cotton balls. Then I ask them, ‘Are there enough homes to adopt all of these cats?’ They immediately agree “NO!”

Rachel Geller, a Certified Humane Education Specialist, believes that it’s by teaching children to respect animals that we can create a society that is caring and compassionate to animals.

Geller offered the example of a volunteer at a shelter in her area who started bringing her son with her. “Her son had struggled emotionally due to physical and verbal abuse that he’d suffered in the volunteer’s previous marriage,” Geller said. “School was difficult for her son academically, and he was also teased and bullied.” Over time, the volunteer’s son connected and bonded with the cats that were too fearful to respond to most people. Not only did the cats change, but so did her son. “The emotional damage he suffered seemed to fade,” Geller said. “The cats trusted him, and in doing so, the cats restored his trust in people.”

Ingram and her husband have been working in animal welfare for the past eight years. The couple started LAFS to help improve the happiness and health of the community’s animals and families. “We want to help children and communities to take action to reduce the suffering, to change attitudes and behaviors,” she explained. “We want to give everyone hope that change is possible.”

Valerie Ingram described a couple of projects that local youth got involved with through LAFS. Students started a TNR project by raising funds to help spay/neuter, feed, and provide shelter for 400 community cats. The students also contributed artwork and helped write the ending of LAFS’s first picture book, Nobody’s Cats, which told the story of their TNR project. “Thousands of copies of the book are in the hands of students, regional schools, libraries, animal welfare, and humane education groups across North America and beyond,” said Ingram. “So not only are our students being ambassadors for animal welfare within our community, they’re also seeing the ripple of compassion spread.”

Student involvement didn’t end with the TNR project, but continued when a high school class and their teacher decided to build and give away insulated dog houses and community cat boxes. “Now we involve classrooms and families to build houses for their furry family members. To date we have built or refurbished nearly 300 houses for dogs and cats in need, Ingram said.  As with the TNR project, the insulated pet house inspired a LAFS picture book. Out of the Cold would like all pets to be kept indoors but recognizes the need for all-weather shelters for those pets that are kept outside Students similarly helped with artwork and story elements.

The field of humane education is not without challenges.

Mary Douglas sometimes struggles to convince pet owners to change the way they care for their pets. She recounted an incident that happened at a fundraiser at a local restaurant. “There was a car outside in the hot summer of 100 degrees with a [dog] in it. The windows were cracked, and they were parked in the shade of the building, but it was still very hot in the car.”

Douglas discovered the dog belonged to a family who had come to support LAA because through the nonprofit they had been able to spay the dog and receive pet food. She told them that when the outside temperature is just 70 degrees the temperature in a car can reach 100.

“The grandpa explained that the dog would tear things up at the house if they left it home alone, and so they always took it with them,” Douglas said. “I just had to keep reminding them that they loved the dog enough to get it spayed and take care of it, and that it’d be terrible if they came out some day and the dog was dead because it was way too hot in the car.  I hope I convinced them.”

The most challenging aspect of humane education for Valerie Ingram is dealing with the people who aren’t animal lovers and don’t understand those who pour their hearts, souls, and resources into animal welfare. Rachel Geller finds herself in the same predicament. She’s often asked, “Why are you spending your time helping cats or animals? Why aren’t you helping people?” Like Ingram, she believes that when she helps animals, she’s also helping people.

By way of illustration, Geller recounted a call that she received recently through her cat behavior counseling service. A woman wanted help finding a shelter to take her cat that had been in her family since it was a kitten. “The woman had cancer and two children, and was terrified, exhausted, and overwhelmed,” said Geller. “Amidst all of this, she had an older cat and she was feeling bad because she couldn’t give the cat enough attention.”

Geller says that she and the woman talked for a long time. Eventually Geller told her, “Your children are stressed because you’re sick. But they’ll feel even more stressed by losing this beloved family pet.” Geller also reminded the lady that cats are basically loyal, caring, and perceptive animals. “That cat was part of the family,” Geller pointed out. “Families experience rough times together, and the cat would surely prefer to give up some attention temporarily rather than be separated from her family permanently. You don’t split up a family simply because times are hard!”

By then, Geller says, the woman was crying. She asked Geller for reassurance that it would really be okay to keep her cat, proving to Geller that the woman didn’t really want to give up her cat but just wanted to do the right thing. Geller reassured the woman and promised her support. “In the end,” Geller said, “the woman kept her cat.”

Agnes Smith believes that one solution to the challenges of humane education is to reach children when they’re young enough to be positively influenced by a program and to even become animal  ambassadors.

“It’s best to give before you’re received,” said Stacey LeBaron. “I find if you’re going to work in a community that you don’t personally live in it’s not a good idea to go in and ‘preach’ your way in.” She recommended that animal welfare groups go into a community and offer free vaccinations, microchipping, and spay/neuter and to provide a resource list about how people can help. “It’s best to first bring in resources and offer solutions to challenging situations, and through “doing” you’ll create new humane relationships.”

LeBaron lives by her own advice. She worked for twenty years with Community Cats in Massachusetts, before she became president of the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society, leading the MRFRS Mentoring program, or hosting the Community Cats Podcast. For the podcast LeBaron records interviews with leaders in the animal welfare field. Her hope is that those stories will “inspire others to take action and to believe that they can succeed even with challenges. We also aim to provide valuable information that folks can use in their programs and communities.”

In the end, education can also change the educator. “By doing the Community Cats Podcast,” said LeBaron, “I’ve become so much more sympathetic to the very different challenges that people face in their communities.” Before starting the podcast two years ago, LeBaron believed that animal homelessness could be eliminated if only animal welfare groups offered services at either no cost or low cost all across the country. Through the podcast, she discovered that legislation, along with lack of funding and volunteers, could hinder the development of a humane community cat program, along with other challenges such as lack of funding and volunteers. “Having legislation hinder progress in a community really made me understand the need for some other supportive tools in our tool-kit.”

Rachel Geller pointed to many ways that she’s been changed through her experiences as a humane educator. One, she says, is that’s become much more aware of her use of language. “Expressions such as ‘kill two birds with one stone’ or ‘don’t let the cat out of the bag’ normalize violence towards animals, so I avoid using those types of expressions, and gently point them out to others when I hear them.”

In addition, Geller has taken a more of an active role in her community by identifying and reporting animal abuse. “I’ve met with my state representatives and state senators to advocate for laws that provide better protections for animals. I feel strongly that we are their stewards.”

On the horizon are more stewards. Stacey LeBaron, who has recorded over 250 Community Cats podcasts, pointed to “incredible and inspiring work happening in the field. I think we’re going to see some very exciting new individual leaders in the field … Jackson Galaxy leads the group … Then there’s the Cat Man of West Oakland and Sterling Davis. There are quite a few woman leaders in the field too, with Hannah Shaw being the most notable.”

All the organizations featured here depend on volunteers, which can include humane education outreach. Please help them by spreading the word about their services and by donating your time and money to their cause. Specifically, you can help Lincoln Animal Ambassadors by writing for LAA Pet Talk and by giving generously on Give to Lincoln Day this May 31st.

How Spay/Neuter Services Help Pet Owners

25% of pets in the United States have not been spayed or neutered. Cost is one major reason. The good news is that there are animal welfare groups in every state that offer low-cost spay/neuter services. The group I belong to and write for, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, is one such group. Earlier this month I talked to representatives from three animal groups offering low-cost spay/neuter services in other parts of the U.S.

Animal Care Sanctuary is in Pennsylvania. While ACS is a sanctuary and does have many animals that live out their lives there, adoption is its primary goal. ACS also offers humane education and spay/neuter services. I spoke to Jill Elston, a Licensed Veterinarian Technician.

Connect a Pet New England is a small, non-profit, dog rescue “dedicated to helping New Englanders find the right dog for their home and family”. I spoke to Cecelia Blake.

Tri-State Spay & Neuter is in Kentucky. It focuses on Trap-Neuter-Return for homeless cats since theyare euthanized at a much higher rate than dogs “and there aren’t any other cat rescues in their area. I spoke to Chrissy Dillow.

Jill said that ACS, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has promoted spay/neuter for decades to address pet overpopulation, and in 2011 opened its own low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Since that time, the group has averaged about 3,000 surgeries a year, including on over 500 cats that were free roaming in local trailer parks thanks to a grant. Jill explained that ACS is “hoping to get grants for barn cats soon, as we are in a very rural area and farm colonies are a huge problem.”

Why do animal welfare groups feel it’s so important to offer spay/neuter services? The reasons shared are similar:

“An outrageous number of homeless cats and dogs exist in the United States.”

“There are too many cats/kittens and not enough homes or rescues.”

“Every altered dog saves us more heartache.”

The bottom line is a belief succinctly expressed by Jill: “Overpopulation can be fought with spay/neuter efforts.”

The spay/neuter coordinator for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, Pauline Balta, said that her fourteen-plus years of involvement with Hearts United for Animals has given her a greater awareness of pet homelessness. She joined LAA in 2008 out of a strong belief that there’s a better way than euthanasia to reduce the homeless pet population.

My previous articles on this topic for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors have included hard-hitting data to refute the reasons pet owners offer for not having their pets fixed. Just as compelling are the stories from the volunteers of animal welfare groups that offer spay/neuter services.

Chrissy referred to strange medical cases such as a litter of petrified kittens inside a feral cat. “But my favorites,” she said, “would be when we are able to catch something like pyometra where spaying saved the animal’s life.”

To explain spay/neuter to children, I review overpopulation and ask the children to imagine sitting in a cage away from their families. Scared and smelling others’ fear. Hearing them crying. I worried it was too much but the teacher said it was the best ever presentation, and a child adopted from the local shelter that weekend.–Cecilia Blake

Jill’s favorite story is of a man who inherited his dad’s dogs when his father passed away. Neither the dad or the son had thought thought to spay/neuter the dogs. “When we first began working with him,” said Jill, “he had around 60 dogs of various ages, all extremely inbred. The [son] had previously had some bad experiences with both the dog warden and veterinarians, so he didn’t have much trust for anyone in the animal welfare world. Our adoption coordinator was the first person to really form a bond with him and she slowly convinced him to bring the dogs in for care and spray/neuter.” ACS was able to help with the cost of surgery and to help him find new homes for several of the dogs. Jill added, “He now comes to every fundraising event we have to show his support and gratitude.”

To reach young people, we use the Best Friends “Fix at Four” ads, and play them before each movie at the local theatre. We also have contests in the area schools. (Coloring contests for elementary, poster contests for middle and high school). School groups also have the option to tour the county shelter.–Chrissy Dillow

Pauline’s greatest joy comes from realizing the efforts that pet guardians will go through to keep their beloved pets with them and make sure they’re healthy. She shared the story of a 19-year-old woman who worked multiple jobs to get by, who rescued a dog running through her neighborhood. She was determined to keep the dog that turned out to be pregnant and so she called LAA to get help spaying the mother dog when the pups were weaned, and then went on to have pups spayed. “Just recently the same young woman called again,” Pauline said, “because she had rescued a dog from a bad situation and needed to get him neutered. Stories like these keep me going.”

In previous interviews, I also personally talked to spay/neuter recipients. One of these was Megan, who has a big heart for homeless animals. She also believes in having animals spayed and neutered. For that reason, she’s grateful for the assistance she’s received from LAA.

Megan told of a dog of hers that was pregnant. “I didn’t want another litter,” Megan said, “and so I set up the appointment to have Sam fixed as soon as possible after the babies were delivered and the vet said she was ready.” She reached out again to LAA when, through her rescue efforts, found herself with an unaltered male and female cat. “It became an urgent situation,” Megan said, “to get them fixed as soon as possible before I had a litter of kittens on my hands.”

Currently, LAA’s low-cost spay/neuter services are available at select veterinary clinics and are obtained with vouchers. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors has provided nearly 2,700 spay/neuter procedures since its start in 2008. Pauline’s ultimate dream for LAA is to host a low-cost spay/neuter program that is housed in its own building, with local veterinarians volunteering their time to perform the surgeries.

Especially if they don’t have their own clinic, the organizations I interviewed depend on volunteers to talk with spay/neuter recipients and veterinarians to work with them. The organizations also rely on the public for donations. Be a part of the no-more-homeless-pets solution by supporting spay/neuter services with your time and/or donations.

If you’re interested in helping Lincoln Animal Ambassadors specifically, please spread the word about its services, volunteer as a telephone interviewer, and give generously on Give to Lincoln Day this May 31st.

When Your Dog House Soils

If your house-trained dog starts having accidents, there are two measures to take. The first is medical and the second is behavioral. Both are covered below.


If your adult potty-trained dog has started to house-soil again, Dr. Madison advised waiting 72 hours before taking her to a vet, unless the pee has a foul odor, looks cloudy, or contains blood. Dr. Walton noted that a change in your dog’s stools—such as in texture, color, or consistency—would also be a reason not to delay a visit to the vet. As would a change in bathroom habits combined with weight loss, increased thirst, or other signs of illness such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite.

When I talked with local vets, Dr. Madison listed urinary infections and diabetes as two common medical reasons for a trained dog to house-soil. Dr. Walton concurred, and expanded the list: Excessive peeing could indicate bladder stones or bladder cancer, Cushing’s disease, or cognitive dysfunction; pooping indoors might indicate gastrointestinal tract disease.

Vet Street provides this complete list of reasons for a dog’s change in bathroom habits:

  • Side effects of medications: Some drugs can cause dogs to need to relieve themselves more often, thereby resulting in accidents.
  • Hormone incontinence: Older female dogs that have been spayed might become incontinent due to a lack of estrogen, which helps maintain muscle tone of the urethral sphincter.
  • Age-related diseases: Older dogs may develop kidney disease, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or other conditions that cause them to relieve themselves more often or become incontinent.
  • Other health problems: Infections, tumors, spinal cord injuries, or bladder problems can cause incontinence in dogs of any age. Moreover, diseases such as diabetes cause dogs to drink more, which of course makes them pee more, and can result in more accidents.

How will a vet evaluate your dog? PetMD explains that a vet will perform a thorough physical exam on your dog which will include a complete blood profile and a urinalysis. Fecal (stool) tests may also be ordered. In addition, a vet might order x-ray and ultrasound images.

Another medical reason for house-soiling is specific to older dogs: senior incontinence. I’ll cover this in my third and final article in this series.


Some behavioral changes that could effect a dog to start pottying inside would be any change to the home or family, sudden fear or anxiety from any number of things, or it may just be acting out due to not getting what it wants. —Dr. Erica Madison, Vintage Heights

Anxiety, lack of consistent schedule, being crated or kept indoors too long (owners have long work hours), and lack of exercise are all behavioral reasons for a dog to potty inside. —Dr. Amy Walton, Pet Care Center of Lincoln

Some more common behavioral causes for house-soiling include: submissive urination, excitement, fear, separation anxiety, change in routine, and marking. The sooner the behavior is addressed and resolved, the less the likelihood you’ll need an intensive treatment program. Determining the specific reason for the dog’s misbehavior is the first step.

Submissive Urination: Does your dog pee when you come home or when he meets new people? Chances are he suffers from submissive urination and has little control over his bladder. Even if your dog licks your face and wags his tail, your dog can also urinate because he believes this is a way to show submission. Other signs of submission include avoidance of eye contact, ears back, retraction of lips, and cowering. Submissive urination is most prevalent in puppies and young female dogs. It happens when a person approaches, reaches out, or stands over a dog. To help your dog overcome submissive urination, Pets—The Nest recommends kneeling at your dog’s level when you greet him, avoiding eye contact, and never touching him on the head or ears. You might also throw a few treats in front of him when he greets you.

Excitement: Does your dog pee when being greeted, receiving affection, or from otherwise being excited? Just like with submissive urination, he’ll have little control over his bladder. In fact, excitement urination most often occurs among young dogs, and usually resolves on its own as a dog matures. To help the process, Dr. Sophia Yin suggests reducing his excitement. When family and friends come to visit, instead of instantly petting and playing with your dog, they should ignore him until he has calmed down. Even then, pet with slow and even strokes and speak softly and soothingly. If at this point your dog still urinates, he should again be ignored until he is once again placid.

Fear: Does the sound of loud noises from traffic, construction, or storms cause your dog to refuse to relieve himself outside? Conditions outside are making your dog anxious and unable to use the bathroom and the unfortunate result could be that he’ll later have an accident in the house. If the noise is temporary, VetStreet suggests taking your dog somewhere else such as for a walk or to doggy daycare. If the noise is consistent, use this opportunity to use distractions and rewards to condition him to not react negatively, and in time he should learn to accept noises as a normal part of life. Alternatively, try creating a relaxing environment in the house with the use of music and puzzle feeders.

Changes in Routine: Have there been any recent changes in your family’s life? Changes such as a birth or death, a family member moving out or into the home, or divorce can cause distress in a dog. As can the remodeling of your house or a deviation in the family’s daily routine. In his anxiety, your dog may become nervous and have accidents in the house. During the transition period your dog may struggle to cope and so you should allow your dog time to adjust.

Separation Anxiety: Does your dog act distressed and relieve himself when left alone? Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. He isn’t being bad out of spite or revenge, but because he’s missing you. Separation anxiety is a behavior that might require the assistance of a veterinarian or a behavior specialist, and it can take weeks or even months to change. Below is a summary of a program the MSCPA has used to treat separation anxiety. For more details, visit its website.

  • Confidence building: Have at least one or two five-minute training sessions every day where you work on basic commands and/or tricks. Daily training sessions will help to build your dog’s confidence and reduce anxiety.
  • Comfort Place and Attention: Provide a place for your dog to go when you leave where she feels safe and secure. Teach him to go to that place and reward him when he does.
  • Independence Training: Reduce the anxiety your dog feels when you leave by not allowing your dog to follow you everywhere. Discourage your dog from following you around the house by making him stay in one room while you are in another.
  • Low-Key Departures and Arrivals: Do not have long good-byes or greetings. Keep them calm, controlled, and short.
  • Habituate to departure cues: Make a list of things that you do when preparing to leave. Perform these tasks several times a day without leaving the house.

Marking: Is your dog urinating on vertical surfaces? Chances are he’s marking his territory. Marking is a normal territorial behavior, whereby a dog stakes his claim on property. Dogs mark for numerous reasons including male hormonal influences, the introduction of a baby or new dog, renovations to the house or a move into a new house, and general stress. PetMD advises that you spay/neuter your dog as soon as it’s old enough. Senior Tail Waggers notes that consistent correction will often reduce the problem over time. StoptheDog concurs and suggests basic obedience training.

If a dog potties inside due to anxiety-related reasons, renew training, increase exercise, and consider anxiety medication. Note about medications: they don’t fix the problem. They simply bring the dog to a level that they’ll be receptive to training and not in a panic. Proper, consistent training is key. —Dr. Amy Walton, Pet Care Center of Lincoln

Regardless of which behavior is causing your dog to house-soil, Dr. Madison says that if all else fails you may have retrain him all over again. “Put the dog on a leash as soon as it comes in and walk through the house and then go right back outside. Usually there are too many distractions outside and they forget why they are outside, so they come in the house, take a deep breath, and pee.”


Your dog is not having accidents to punish you. First, determine the cause is medical. If it’s not, then they may simply lack the proper training, or they’re stressed. In either case, they need your help. With time and patience, your home can once again be a clean and cheerful one.

The above article is based on research, personal experience, and consultation with vets. My deepest gratitude goes to Dr. Madison and Dr. Walton for their expert advice.



The Nest

Stop That Dog

VCA Hospital

Vet Street



The Nest




Senior Tail Waggers

Stop That Dog

The Nest

VCA Hospital



My “Fishing Trip” with Nebraska’s Cat Welfare Groups

The annual statistics for the number of abandoned cats in the United States is overwhelming: about 3.2 million enter shelters, 1.4 are euthanized, and 40 million are homeless. Nearer to home, the statistics of cats euthanized in just Omaha and Lincoln are just as staggering: About 4,100 cats entered the Nebraska Humane Society (Omaha) in 2016 with 2,900 being euthanized, and about 1,600 cats entered the Capital Humane Society (Lincoln) with close to 500 being euthanized. Given the magnitude of the problem, what can any of us do to make a difference?

I emailed Nebraska’s cat welfare groups to find out how they help cats and what else they think needs to be done. This article serves as a continuation of my “Animal Welfare Takes A Village” series. It won’t have a great deal of focus, but will rather share raw information that will lay the groundwork for future articles.

My utmost thanks to the four cat welfare groups that took the time to respond to my somewhat random questions. They are as follows:

  • The Coalition for Pet Protection in Lincoln, seeks to “reduce pet overpopulation and animal abuse in Nebraska by supporting the promotion of basic humane care and placement of animals, responsible pet ownership, prevention of animal cruelty and neglect, and public education.” I spoke to Traci Cameron.
  • Feline Friendz in Nebraska is a volunteer cat rescue organization in Omaha with a focus on TNR (trap, neuter, return) to help humanely stabilize feral cat colonies. I spoke to Laurie.
  • Joining Forces Saving Lives in Lincoln, was created in 2012 with the goal of bringing animal organizations and the public together to find new ways to save more pets in Lincoln and surrounding communities. In 2017, it received a grant to TNR feral cats in Lincoln. I spoke to Melissa Money-Beecher.
  • Platypus Protected Feline Rescue Shelter is an independent shelter in Beatrice developed to provide a haven for abandoned, special needs, and feral cats. I spoke to Susan Mayes.

What are the most common reasons an animal is relinquished to you?

In a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), researchers went into 12 U.S. animal shelters for one year to learn why people relinquish their pets. Three of the ten reasons were also listed by the cat groups I contacted: moving to a place that won’t allow cats, inability to afford a cat, and allergies. The survey didn’t cover people’s reasons for moving, but all four groups noted that the number of cats being relinquished due to owners being elderly or hospitalized continues to rise.

We’ve had cats dumped on people’s porches, found wandering highways, and some just show up on our doorstep (where there is food and water) starving, ill and terrified from being deserted.—Platypus Protected

What questions do pet owners most frequently ask?

This answer can be separated into three parts: resources, cat care, and cat behavior. With regards to resources, pet owners most often want to know:

  • Where can I get low-cost spaying/neutering?
  • Where can I get free food?
  • Where can I get help with vet bills?

With regards to cat care, pet owners often want to know:

  • What type of food should I feed a cat?
  • How often should I brush my cat?
  • What type of toys should I buy?

With regards to cat behavior, pet owners often want to know:

  • How do I introduce a cat into a multi-pet household?
  • How do I keep a cat from peeing outside the litter box or marking in the house?
  • Why does my cat bite when petted?

The Coalition for Pet Protection noted that basic care for a cat is the “the same as you would give a human child.” Some examples include regularly brushing a cat’s hair, cleaning its teeth, and clipping its nails. The Coalition for Pet Protection also stressed the importance of a slow introduction when there are other pets. Pets should be separated at first and then integrated over a period of days or weeks.

How can people help you?

The three greatest needs are volunteers, donations, and educational brochures. The types of volunteers needed depends on the group’s focus.

Both Feline Friendz and Joining Forces Saving Lives are dedicated to Trap-Neuter-Return efforts. Both can therefore use help from trappers and transporters. As TNR groups often find adoptable kittens, they could also use foster homes; kittens that aren’t exposed to humans early in their lives become feral, but if they are caught and handled at a young enough age they can be socialized.

The Coalition for Pet Protection focuses on providing resources and education. As such, it has a wide variety of volunteer needs. It would appreciate support in any of the following areas:

  • Advertising and marketing
  • Newsletter publication
  • Food pantry deliveries
  • Designing images for its Cafe Press store
  • Fundraising
  • Grant writing
  • Photography
  • Photo archiving
  • Recording secretary
  • Seamstress for pet bandanas
  • Sitting at an event table

Unfortunately, too many people are on fixed incomes, working multiple low-paying part-time jobs to make ends meet, or do not care. Like so many shelters, we are always short-handed and short-funded.—Platypus Protected

What are the best ways people can help homeless cats?

Number one answer? Spay and neuter! This includes the establishment of trap-neuter-release programs. Platypus Protected recognized that the latter might not help current homeless pets but would help with overpopulation down the road.

Joining Forces Saving Lives gave this tip: “Regarding kittens found outside: Socialize them when they are three-weeks-old, so they don’t become feral. When they’re old enough to be separated from their mom, at about eight weeks, find homes for them. And then spay their mom!”

Other ways to help include: support shelters, become a pet foster parent, and help educate.

What kind of support do you provide to cat owners?

Support is most typically provided through phone calls and emails. When feasible, three of the groups try to also provide a care package to new adopters. The Coalition for Pet Protection doesn’t accept animal surrenders but will instead help families to re-home their pets by taking photos, writing promotions, making phone calls, accepting applications, and performing home visits. It’ll also “reach out to the public at our various events and use our website, Facebook, and other resources.”

The Coalition for Pet Protection also assists pet owners with food, veterinary care, and education. In 2015 it helped 250 families and 400 pets by providing 375 bags of free pet food as well as additional supplies. CPP maintains a website where it provides educational articles and links to resources, and it puts out a quarterly newsletter with both informational and entertaining items.

How can our community better help cats?

All four groups agreed that society needs to put a higher value on cats. There are people who will hurt and kill cats because they consider them a nuisance. There are also people who allow their cats to wander outside, despite the risks from other animals and/or the elements, illness, and lack of nutritious food. And, finally, there are people who, while they might keep their cats indoors, don’t provide enrichment. These cats might be safer than their outdoor counterparts, but they risk a life of boredom and loneliness, both of which can lead to behavior problems.

Communities can help homeless cats by implementing Trap Neuter Release programs, whereby cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. Those considered unadoptable will also have one of their ears “tipped” (the ear tip is removed to identify the cat as having already been TNR’d), and then will be returned to their colony, which is cared for by volunteers who provide food, water, and shelter. Animal welfare groups advocate TNR for the management of feral colonies because they consider it the most humane and effective strategy for reducing feral cat populations.

Cat owners can improve the lives of indoor cats by providing enrichment. The Coalition for Pet Protection recommended scratching posts and fun toys. Some of the toys should be catnip-filled or have feathers. But you don’t have to spend money to enrich your cats’ lives. As most people know, cats love empty cardboard boxes; just position a few around your house and your cats will be thrilled. CPP also encouraged, when feasible, the adoption of more than one cat. “Having a friend for your kitty will give it someone to play with, snuggle with, and just be with in general.”

There needs to be an increased awareness of all animals having emotions and thoughts and so forth. People need to understand that domesticated animals are companions, not disposable playthings. Of course, some humans will never change—they prefer to see themselves as kings rather than shepherds. —Platypus Protected

How can our communities become no-kill?

The Best Friends Animal Society, the largest no-kill sanctuary in the country, has the goal of all fifty states reaching no-kill status by 2025. When I asked cat welfare groups how communities can become no-kill, the number one suggestion was low-cost spay/neuter. In Lincoln, both the Capital Humane Society and Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offer this for low-income cat owners. Trap-Neuter-Release was also considered key. In Lincoln, The Cat House and Joining Forces Saving Lives provide this service. In addition, the Capital Humane Society offers a barn cat program.

The Coalition for Pet Protection also highly recommended education, with an emphasis on what is involved in getting and raising an animal companion? “It should be stressed that bringing this animal into their family is a lifetime commitment. If there isn’t the time, energy, or finances to properly keep the animal they want to adopt then perhaps it should be reconsidered. Another important consideration is knowing the breed before bringing it home. Each breed has its own quirks, size, and traits that won’t mesh with all families.”

Other ideas suggested were:

  • A hotline for struggling pet owners to prevent cats from being relinquished
  • Programs for FELV, FIV, and other at-risk cats
  • Several large low-cost and fee-waived adoption promotions held throughout the year that would, through adoption, make room for more animals
  • An expanded pet-foster program to allow shelters to take in more animals.

A sizeable percentage of animals do not make it out of shelters due to space, health, or personality. Approximately 45% of them are cats. To decrease the numbers that are euthanized more education must be done with respect to finding solutions to the problems that land the cats in the shelter in the first place. —Coalition for Pet Protection


On a Community Cats podcast from a few years back, a guest expert observed that often a community has many, many, many animal welfare groups. While all these groups have something to offer, if these groups fail to connect with each other they’re doing a disservice to the animals they’re trying to help because no one group can solve all a community’s problems. For example, through this series of “fishing” articles I’ve learned that larger animal shelters often have humane education programs, but smaller shelters and many rescues desperately need educational handouts. Perhaps these groups should partner with each other? At the same time, a lot of Trap-Neuter-Release work is being done by mostly by small groups who partner with bigger shelters.

The guest expert on Community Cats encouraged animal welfare groups to collaborate. Through this series, I’ve certainly become more aware of the amazing services that our various groups provide as well as where they struggle. I plan to continue to building connections with the state’s animal welfare groups and hope my readers will too. With what goal in mind? To improve dialog among Nebraska’s animal welfare groups. Cat welfare takes a village. Let’s be a village.

The Faces of Feral Cats

Trap-Neuter-Return is the most effective program for reducing the cat overpopulation. My first four articles on the topic presented the facts that support that claim. Personally, it wasn’t the facts alone that won me over. Even after wading through all the pros and cons of TNR, the cats themselves are why TNR is dear to my heart. What follows then are the stories behind three unique faces; ones which, if you’re unfamiliar with feral cat colonies, may surprise you.


Frankie and Annie are two cats who were born to a small, young, black cat in a feral cat colony. Caretakers affectionately dubbed that cat “Gravel Road Mama”. Those grown-up kittens now belong to Randy and Jill Flagel.

Back when Jill was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she would notice feral cats around campus. From day one, she worried about them, wanted to help them, and even desired to own one. She was understandably excited, therefore, when she learned about a volunteer group of students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university that formed in 2008 to ensure a high quality life for the campus cats. That group is called Husker Cats, which since its formation has stabilized and even reduced the feral cat population due to TNR.

Jill both donated to the group and kept up with news of the group’s activities. In the summer of 2014, through friends, Jill heard about the trapping of a feral kitten. According to the vet who checked the black cat, Frankie didn’t want to be feral. In fact, everyone who met Frankie was crazy about him. The Flagels requested a visit with Frankie, thinking they’d decide at the time whether to foster.

After returning from the Apple Jack Festival in Nebraska City, they jumped back in their car the next day and went to see Frankie. “We thought we were just going to visit,” Jill told me, “but they had Frankie ready to go.”

The Flagels took Frankie home. Because Frankie would need time to adjust before being introduced to the rest of the house and to their other cats, the Flagels isolated him in a bedroom with a litter box and food. In the morning, Randy would check on Frankie, and in the evening both Jill and Randy would spend time with Frankie in him room. As the days passed, it was evident from the number of paws being poked under the door that the Flagels’ cats were eager to get to know Frankie. It was also evident that Frankie wanted out of the room. One day the Flagels opened the door, retreated to the living room, and let Frankie venture out on his own when he was ready. He did this slowly, and none of the other cats bothered him. There were no disagreements, nor any hissing or fights. Frankie stayed out and became part of the family.

In the meantime, Frankie’s mom still lived in the colony and had eluded the traps. Not surprisingly then, several months later Jill heard that Gravel Road Mama had given birth to a kitten, this time a female. The Flagels now had three cats, with no plans for a fourth. But the kitten’s birthday fell on the same day Jill’s. In addition, the Flagels were tempted by the prospect of uniting Frankie with his sister. After some talk, they decided to ask to adopt Annie. Incidentally, this wasn’t their chosen name for her, but they decided to keep the name after learning it’d been chosen to honor a woman who had drowned during the floods that month.

Without early human contact, feral kittens will grow up wild. They’ll routinely face the threat of disease, starvation, flooded drainpipes, frostbite, and predators such as eagle and fox. They’ll also never know the safety, comfort, and love of a human family. In contrast, if captured at the right age, feral kittens can often be tamed within weeks. Such has proved to be the case with Frankie and Annie.

Today all four of the Flagels’ cats follow Randy around whenever he’s home. Frankie loves to have his head rubbed. At night, Frankie sleeps by Jill’s stomach and Annie sleeps next to Jill’s face. Jill notes that the cats have also connected her and her husband “into this family of cat lovers and special cats”. Pretty good for two cats who were born to feral parents and spent their first three months outside! And here’s a bonus: Gravel Road Mama herself was adopted this fall!


The dirty and skinny black cat looked like any other feral when he first showed up on campus. The shy and fearful cat was trapped, taken to the veterinarian for neutering and vaccinations, given a name, and then released where he’d been found. Day after day, caretakers of the feral colony brought food and water to JoJo and the other colony cats.

JoJo gradually began to warm up to one of the caretakers, even asking for attention from her before settling to eat. Then one summer day, this caretaker found JoJo soaking wet. She wrapped him in a warm blanket and picked him up. JoJo accepted this human contact and purred in response.

Adult cats that show up in feral colonies may be lost or abandoned, having long ago left behind memories of home and family. The longer these cats are separated from people, the more timid and defensive they can become. With time and patience, however, many of them can learn to reconnect with human companions.

JoJo is a testament to what can be achieved. When Ellen and Rob Shutt heard about JoJo, they wanted to get him off the streets and into a warmer environment before winter. Although JoJo was initially terrified, preferring to hide, he eventually learned to trust the Shutts. As Rob sat with JoJo and talked to him, JoJo became more relaxed. One day, JoJo even ventured onto Rob’s lap.

Only a month after that significant breakthrough, JoJo progressed from wanting to be held for only a few seconds to enjoying regular snuggle time with Rob. JoJo also began to rub up against Ellen’s leg and accept her gentle caresses. Ellen says that one of the highs of being a pet foster parent is seeing the transformation of a once feral cat into a loving companion.

In the spring of 2014, JoJo was placed in The Cat House with the hopes that he would find a forever home. Only a few months later, the feral colony caretakers received the news of his adoption. When his new guardian met JoJo for the first time, JoJo walked right up to her as if he had been expecting her. As one volunteer for Husker Cats said, “Obviously, he recognized LOVE when it walked in the door.”


As far as anyone knows, Bootsie was born outside. She has been seen on campus as a kitten, so her age is known to be about three years old. I first met Bootsie while volunteering with Husker Cats. Immediately, she shattered my stereotype of feral cats being wild. Instead she became for me the poster cat for the potential of feral cats. You see, Bootsie would come up to her caretakers for back scratches and even would occasionally even show a playful side. Therein lay a dilemma.

Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species. The three groups, however, differ from one another in their relationship to and interactions with people. Feral cats are those which were born in the wild or have experienced minimal contact with humans. As such, they have socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, rather than to people. These cats, who have learned by necessity to survive outside, typically do not allow humans to touch them.

In contrast, Bootsie seemed to have the potential to become someone’s pet cat and so, this past spring, my husband and I began the adventure of fostering Bootsie. At first, because we weren’t sure how she would adapt to indoor life, Bootsie stayed in a crate in our library. Within only a few days, Bootsie made it clear by her growing agitation that she wanted more freedom. In response, we opened the door of her crate and gave her the run of the library. By her interest in eating outside of the crate, playing with toys, and interacting with my husband and me, Bootsie showed us that we had made the right choice.

The next challenge would be our feisty and standoffish Tortoiseshell, Cinder. To acclimate the two cats to one another, we followed all the guidelines about initially keeping cats separated and then slowly introducing them. Initially, this involved exchanging scents through swapping beds, toys, litter, and even rooms. When the day of introductions arrived, we put a partition between the library and the hall to limit their exposure to each other. In addition, at first, the library door was only opened about a foot. We increased that amount daily and within a week, the cats were able to eat and play within sight of one another. When Bootsie tried to climb the partition, we realized it was time to fully integrate her into our household.

Doing such required introducing her to our toy poodle. The two quickly realized that neither proved a threat or even a competition to one another. Integrating her fully into our household also meant allowing Bootsie to explore the rest of our house. My husband and I had to learn to respect Bootsie’s timidity and to allow her time to realize that our home truly would be a safe haven for her. We also had to figure out that the first sound of rain will send Bootsie running for cover under our bed. Oh, and apparently, Miss Bootsie doesn’t care for robes or coats.

Bootsie_LapCatAt the same time, we’ve also been given the privilege of getting to know one of the most polite and loving cats you could imagine. Without our ever training her, Bootsie knows how to wait patiently for treats. She also responds well to: “No!” Every morning while I write these articles, Bootsie curls up on my lap. In the evening, wherever I am, Bootsie seeks me out.

Even now as I scroll through the hundreds of photos I’ve taken of Bootsie, I feel amazed that three years ago I didn’t even know she existed. In addition, when I finally did meet Bootsie, I simply thought of her as a cat who would safely live her life outdoors thanks to TNR. Now this gray-haired cat has not only been living inside with our family since 2015, but she’s become a lap cat.


From the stories I hear from other TNR caretakers, I have no doubt that for every feral cat that has overcome its wild nature and learned to be a house cat, there are many others that can’t make that adjustment. Some are just too wild. Others do not get enough regular exposure to loving caretakers. For those feral cats to have a chance at a long and healthy life, the best place for them is in a TNR community.

No matter whether the feral cats remain outside or eventually find a forever home inside, my goal in introducing you to a few of them is to help you see past the debate. When thinking of how best to solve the problem of 40 million cats, we need to remember that each cat is an individual and each individual is important. Take a step today to help just one. For that one you do help, the difference might be their life.

Many thanks to Dick and Olga Paulick, who provided daily attention and affection to Bootsie’s feral colony and no doubt were instrumental in teaching Bootsie to be comfortable and even loving with people. Also, thanks to Husker Cats, the group that first introduced me to TNR and to Bootsie. I’m so blessed to have Bootsie in my life.

If you wish to support Trap-Neuter-Return right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat HouseHusker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

This article first appeared February 2016 at LAA Pet Talk.