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Jim Monsma
Jim Monsma
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Pet Adoption Month
With Jim Monsma
Friday, Oct. 27, 2000; Noon EDT

Join Jim Monsma, Director of Community Outreach with the Washington Humane Society to discuss the benefits of adopting dogs, cats and other pets from a shelter.

For two years, Monsma has been the Director of Community Outreach for the Washington Humane Society. Prior to that, Jim served as Volunteer Coordinator and Adoptions Manager and has worked at the Washington Humane Society since 1992. He appears regularly on television and speaks frequently on the need for people to adopt animals from shelters.

The Washington Humane Society provides humane education to hundreds of D.C. school children and dozens of community organizations each year. The Washington Humane Society provides a low-cost spay neuter clinic available to all D.C. residents and is the only organization authorized to enforce the District's animal cruelty laws. Over 14,000 animals pass through the Washington Humane Society's shelters each year.

Adoptable animals are carefully screened for health and temperament, have all basic medical work done before placement.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

DC: I have a neighbor who has several cats and a dog. They refuse to get the animals spayed and neutered. Their excuse? "That's not natural."

The cats are allowed to roam the alley, and have litters in random places. The dog is locked in the backyard, and barks constantly.

I have thought of grabbing the cats, and taking them to my vet to get fixed, but have not yet succeeded in doing so. I don't know what to do about the dog.

They are not the friendliest people, and I am afraid to press them any further on the issue. I am also afraid to call animal control, as they would make life miserable for me if they knew it was me.

What can I do? I really cannot stand to see the animals suffer.

Jim Monsma: Thanks for your question. We would like to help, and if you call us you should know that all calls are kept completely confidential. In a case such as you described, we would like to know that the animals are being cared for properly, but it is also against the law to allow one's cats to roam off one's property in DC.

Our first approach is always to talk to people and see if they will cooperate in fixing the problem. More often than not, that's all it takes.

It helps, I think, if someone with authority calls, rather than a neighbor. Plus we have resources -- such as a low-cost spay/neuter clinic -- to help people.

In general, if you're worried about how an animal is being treated, either abuse or neglect, call the Washington Humane Society (anonymously if you'd like, and 24 hours a day) at 202-723-5730. Concerns about animals straying or posing a hazard to people can be addressed to DC Animal Control (operated by WHS, and also 24 a day) at 202-576-6664.

Takoma Park, MD: My 12-yr old cat, Peggy, died about a month ago. I am considering adopting another cat or kitten eventually, but I am concerned that the new cat will not get along with my 11-yr old surviving cat, Bob. Both cats were always indoor cats, so the only other cat that Bob has known since the age of 8 weeks, when I adopted him, is Peggy. Although he is quite friendly to humans when not threatened (e.g., he can be a terror at the vet's!), he weighs 17 pounds and sometimes bullied 10-pound Peggy. Part of my reason for adopting another cat would be to provide Bob, who really seems to miss Peggy as much as I do, with a companion, so if he ends up hating the new cat, things will get worse for him, not better.

Jim Monsma: You might consider getting a cat about 6 months old who can defend himself, as opposed to a kitten, who might not be able to and might annoy Bob. Or get a 5 - 6 year-old cat that we know is used to other cats. One living in a foster home with other cats would be a good choice.

The introduction process is always critical. We are constantly advising people about this, and we have some real experts on this subject at the shelter.

DC: I have cats. 2 cats. Ok, maybe a few more. See...

First, we adopted a shelter cat. Then, we took in a rescue cat. That was going to be it. Really. Then a friend died. I took in one of her cats. 3 cats. That's it. Really. Can't blame her or the cat for her illness, no one's fault.

Then, a (now-former) friend has a child. and suddenly, she decides that the kid cannot share a house with the cat. So, she locks her declawed cat outside with no shelter. (She does continue to feed and water him.) Her, I blame.

4 cats live in my house now.

I have seen this happen far too many times. (Not me adding cats. Well, that too.) People who refuse to understand that a pet is a lifetime commitment. People who refuse to understand that a cat or a dog cannot care for itself. People who refuse to provide proper medical care for their animals. People who declaw, or bob tails or ears, making animals suffer needlessly. People who get a pet to "teach the kids about life" and so refuse to spay or neuter the pet, and expect small children to provide all essential pet care.

So, what's the question?

What kind of education do you provide to people who adopt from you? And what kind of screening do you have in place to ensure that your animals will not be dumped when the adopter gets bored with them? And what can we, the public, do to prevent these situations from arising to begin with? (It's too late for me. My friends all already know I am an animal-centric loony. But, maybe there are others reading who could help educate novice pet-adopters.)

Jim Monsma: Here's what we do to screen and educate adopters:

Adopters fill out a two-page application. We verify the information as we can, check with the landlord, etc. Then there is a telephone interview in which we ask more questions and provide information as to proper care and realistic expectations for their new family member. Finally, there is always a house visit, which is equal parts education and verification that things look good. Plus all animals are spayed or neutered and vaccinated before going home. One of the major things we look for throughout the adoptions process is a permanent commitment to the animal. And we warn people that bringing a new animal into the home rarely goes 100% smoothly. They will need patience and understanding.

Your willingness to talk to people about being responsible is great. The animals need all the advocates they can get. If we can help, give us a call.

DC girl: Hi Jim:

I just wanted to say thanks to you and everyone else at the DC shelter. We adopted our dog from there almost 2 years ago, and have spread the work about how great you guys are. Every person we spoke with there was compassionate, patient, and answered our questions honestly. I have recommended the shelter to many people who are also thrilled with the results.

Jim Monsma: Thank you for your kind words and for spreading the message about adoptions. Word of mouth is one of our animals' best hopes of finding a new home.

Rockville: Hi Jim. What type of background check does the Humane Society conduct on those seeking to adopt a pet?

I ask, because I recently adopted a great cat from an animal-rescue organization and I felt the background check was intrusive. In addition to a home visit, they called all of my vets for the past 10 years to make sure I was taking proper care of my existing cat.

Jim Monsma: Hi! I'm sorry if your adoption process felt intrusive. We are pretty strict, too. However, every day we get animals from people who lost them (very few are reclaimed), would not train them (they tell us the dog is "dumb" or "unmanageable"), did not check with their landlord, decided not to take them when moving, decided they didn't have the time or money for them, etc. Many of these animals have clearly been neglected. And we get about 11,000 dogs and cats each year.

We take our responsibility of finding permanent, loving homes very seriously and do everything possible to ensure that the new home will be the animal's last.

Westmoreland Hills: Can we get our name on a waiting list for a specific breed or kind of dog?


Jim Monsma: Yes, of course. To get on our waiting list for a dog, call Liz DiSimone, Adoption Coordinator, at 202-576-6013. She add you to the list. Also, she may be able to refer you to a breed rescue group.

Washington DC: Do you handle animals other than dogs and cats?


Jim Monsma: Yes, we take in all kinds of animals. In fact, our policy is never to turn an animal away. Some of the exotics and small mammals are placed directly through the shelter, but more often we'll use a rescue group such as the House Rabbit Society or Mid-Atlantic Turtle & Tortoise Society. They foster the animals until they can find an appropriate home. But over the years, we've place tropical fish, large pythons, ferrets (not legal in DC incidentally), hedgehogs, tarantulas, a prairie dog...you name it.

Alexandria, Virginia: I'm considering getting an adult cocker spaniel. I'm in my 50s and have not had a dog since my youth and have always missed that companionship. I have been advised, however, that I should not look for one from a pound because they usually have temperament or behavior problems that brought them there. Do you have histories on the dogs?

Jim Monsma: Some of the dogs -- those surrendered -- have histories. Often they are given up due to no fault of their own, it's generally an owner problem, not an animal problem.

Also, we have years of experience in evaluating thousands of animals, and if I may say so, we're pretty good at it. Our interest is in making the adoption a success...we're not in it for the money, for example, since we lose money on each adoption. So we'll do everything we can to make sure you get the best possible companion.

I think if you came into our shelter, you would be pleasantly surprised.

Washington: Hi Mr. Monsma:

Why is it SO difficult to adopt a dog these days? I have been researching breeds for months, gathering and reading books, printing and perusing hundreds of Web site pages only to discover that I have three tedious choices:

1. Adopt a dog from a shelter, where you have to put yourself on a WAITING list to be able to adopt the few, few dogs they have.

2. Adopt a dog from a rescue group, where you have to wait WEEKS for the group to process a lengthy, somewhat invasive application.

3. Buy a dog from a reputable breeder, which costs anywhere from $500-$1,000 and you may have to wait for a litter.

I don't get it. Is there a dog shortage?

I mean, I try to make all of my decisions with lots of info. in hand. I'd never take the decision to add a member to my family lightly. But all this waiting and work makes me want to forget the whole idea!

Thanks for listening,

Jim Monsma: Maybe, you're looking to adopt a purebred, even a specific purebred. You might have to wait a while for some of the rarer breeds. However, if you would consider a mixed-breed dog, there are literally dozens available every day at our shelter. And they make great pets, as good as any purebred.

Bethesda: Hello, I have tried numerous times to adopt/rescue a dog but every organization I talk to won't even come and check my home because we don't have a fenced in yard. I completely understand the necessity for a fenced in yard if you live in a community or somewhere more urban but we live on several acres in a very rural county. As much as I would love to adopt a dog I'm not about to put up a fence around our 4 acres for one. Beyond going to a puppy mill (ugh) and buying a dog I don't know what else to do to convince someone that we would provide a loving home for a neglected dog.

Jim Monsma: We don't required fenced yards as long as people are willing to walk their dog (I don't even have a fence for my dog). In fact, I believe that dogs that do not have fenced yards get more walks and are happier for it.

Vienna, VA: Hi Jim,

I've never understood the "we're moving" excuse for giving up an animal. Can you give me some insight into their mindset and why they don't think they can take the animal with them? You don't see people giving up their kids when they move!


Jim Monsma: I don't get it either. It seems to be all about commitment vs. convenience.

New England: This may not be the kind of question you are willing to answer, but I'll give it a shot anyway. What do you consider the best breeds of dog for companionship, loyalty, and nice behavior (i.e. no yapping!)? (Getting along with children is a good plus!)

Jim Monsma: Mixed breeds, of course. They often have better temperaments. But we do also place hundreds of purebreds. We consider the adopter's lifestyle in recommending which breed -- or which individual dog -- would be best.

Georgetown: Is it practical for a single working person to adopt a dog? The dog would be left alone from 9am-5pm. Thanks.

Jim Monsma: Certainly, but I would say you should consider a dog who is three years or older. Our rule is that dogs under six months should not be alone more than six hours at a stretch.

We'd be happy you select a dog. Call Liz DiSimone at 202-576-6013.

Hope you find the dog of your dreams.

Rockville, MD: I just want to tell people not to limit yourselves to purebred animals. We were considering adopting a golden retriever but the MoCo humane soc. steered us to a two-year-old retriever/shepherd mix. we adopted her and are very happy. she's wonderful with kids, very smart, housebroken, loving.

Jim Monsma: Our sentiments exactly. Thanks!

Ashburn, VA: Long story short: Grew up with cats, became allergic to them in my late teens. Got a dog, became allergic to dogs over a period of a few years (he now lives with my parents in the country). My problem is I really miss having him in my life and miss having cats, too. Any word on new treatments for allergies or types of cats/dogs less likely to cause allergic/asthmatic reactions?


Jim Monsma: You need to find out if your allergic to the dander or the fur. If you're allergic to dander, no furry pet will hypoallergenic. If you're allergic to fur, some dogs -- poodles, bichons, and maltese - have hair instead of fur.

Some people live with animals and allergies by getting regular shots. Check with your doctor, who can run allergy tests before you get a pet.

Reston, VA: Hi, over the summer I found many many "stray" cats and kittens. I took a few to the vet and paid for them myself and then found them homes, but there were so many and I ran out of money. I called rescue groups all over the area but most weren't willing or able to help me. I was afraid to take them to the shelter because I really didn't want them to be put down, but also I didn't know if they would even LET me do that... Do they? Now things are quiet again but come spring, it will be kitten season again and I'd like to be prepared. Thanks

Jim Monsma: Thanks for your question. We are essentially in the same position: there are so many needy animals, and money and other resources are slim. We never turn an animal away, but can't guarantee that we'll place them all. We're working toward that day, but there's a way to go yet.

Washington, DC: Can you explain why most landlords do not allow pets? Is it merely to keep the apartments "in good shape"? Does the WHS or DC shelter have any programs or outreaching that they are doing to try and target landlords in the District about the benefit of pets, cleanliness, stats, etc.? I currently live in a "dog-friendly" apartment, but it took me three months to find an available one. However, I paid a dog deposit equal to half of my security deposit, which seemed fair, just in case my pup did some damage. Is there any way that the community can get involved in helping the Humane Society and shelter with more adoptions? Sorry for all the questions, and thanks in advance for your answers.

Jim Monsma: We do keep a list of "pet-friendly" housing in DC, and we can offer you some guidance on approaching landlords (i.e., have your obedience certificate, proof of spay/neuter, etc.) Call me at 202-723-2071, ext. 226 to discuss.

We also use a lot of volunteers in adopting out animals. We have about 300 wonderful, dedicated volunteers. To volunteer, call Karen Garretson at 202-576-6839.

Also, spread the word that there are thousands of great cats and dogs in area shelters and rescue groups who are looking for homes.

Bethesda, MD: Hi,

I volunteer with a breed rescue program & I'd like to address some of the comments/questions already posted.....re: the process seeming intrusive, like the Humane Society, we want to make sure that a good match is made. Between the information we gather on our adoption application & the home visit, we can get a good sense of the potential adopter, his/her lifestyle (e.g. active & outgoing or quiet, more subdued, etc.) Our dogs have already been bounced from at least one home & we want to make sure that it's a good fit all-around so it's the last time they are looking for a new home. Also, since we do a lot of communicating over the internet, one can never be too careful...

As for a fenced yard, some rescues require it, some don't. Each group sets their own policy. For the person that doesn't have a fence, can you show the group that you plan on getting the dog adequate exercise and if so, how? Providing that information might help.

Re: waiting/the process taking too long. All of my rescue counterparts I know of, regardless of breed are swamped with dogs nearly all the time. The question is: are any of those dogs the right dog for you? For instance, if you have small kids or cats, we will only place a dog that is good with kids/cats in your home. Also, have you put too many restrictions on what you will accept? We've had people who insist that the dog must be "female, under 1 yr. of age, totally housetrained, not rambunctious", etc. That's a pretty tall order to fill & it will take time for a dog with just those qualities comes into our program.

Lastly, THANK YOU, Mr. Monsma for the work you do everyday! Thousands of cats/dogs/other animals owe their lives to what you do.

Jim Monsma: Thank you, as well. We at the Washington Humane Society, not to mention thousands of animals, owe their lives and good fortunes to the numerous rescue groups. We could hardly function without them.

Charlottesville: Hope I'm not too late submitting this. What's the best way to help your local shelter, other than money & adoption. We have a dog (a fine mix adopted in April from the SPCA), 3 cats (one adopted, 2 strays who were rescued & stayed), a hamster, fish, 2 kids... no room for another animal right now. I donate to the SPCA, but what else do they need from the community?


Jim Monsma: I would say spread the word on spaying and neutering, proper care, adoptions, etc. Get creative. Also, try volunteering at your local shelter. And many can use donations of blankets, towels, dog and cat toys, newspapers...call you local humane society and ask them what they need. And thanks from us and the animals.

Arlington, VA: I lived in a nice neighborhood in south Arlington, but am perplexed as to why many of our neighbors let their cats run around the neighborhood, most of them have collars (however one neighbor across the street lets her DECLAWED cat run around as well). I've started smelling some ver telling cat smells near our driveway and am wondering if the cats are starting to use our driveway as their natural litter box. Is there anyway to curb their natural "disposals" near our home? We also don't know if this is legal to let cats run wild? Thanks.

Jim Monsma: In DC, it is not legal to allow your cats to roam off your property. We require our adopters to keep their cats indoors for the safety of the cats (we're always picking up the ones who get hit by cars, attacked by dogs, etc.) and for the neighbors. To let a cat roam where he will seems to me irresponsible. To let a declawed cat outside seem unconscionable to me.

Suburbia, USA: We are a household with young children, and we would like to adopt a dog. How do we select one? What should we be looking for? It seems that you can research the characteristics of various breeds, but what about the mixed breeds usually found in shelters?

Jim Monsma: Medium-sized dogs (20 - 60 pounds) do best with children; they're less fragile. Look for a calm dog at least a year old. Remember that your dog will need attention like your children. You'll want a dog that is out-going and friendly, not shy or timid. Friendly dogs do better in active households.

Researching dogs by breeds can be helpful, but ultimately each dog is unique. Shelters can guide you in choosing a dog and will give you the time and space to get to know the dog. We have an outdoor yard where you can spend time with your prospective new family member.

Mt. Rainier: The shelters and their employees & volunteers do wonderful work. We got one dog from the shelter (and any number of 'rescue' animals from the street), and found that she was just a joy to live with. I don't understand people spending hundreds of dollars for a purebred animal (that they will never breed or show!) when they could have the dog or cat of their dreams for next to nothing. And have the great feeling that they've rescued a loving pet from death.

Jim Monsma: Well said. Thanks.

Philly, Pa.: We have a 1 1/2 year old Shiba Inu mix (Honey) that we got last September ('99). In May, we found a stray dog and after no one "claimed" her, we adopted her as our own (Maple). Both dogs are in great health.

Question: We've had a very hard time getting the two dogs to get along. Dominance issues really seem to be a problem with the two of them. Honey is clearly the dominant one but Maple is constantly challenging that which leads to lots of play fighting (and on one of two occasions, a real knockdown fight!).

What can one do to help dogs get along (especially if they adopt a dog into a house that already has one)?

Jim Monsma: You should consult a trainer or behaviorist. The Washington Humane Society keeps a list of good ones, who use only positive reinforcement. I'd bet your local shelter does too.

Are both dogs neutered? They should be.

DC: Where are the Washington Humane Society's shelters and how do I contact them? Are they open after work hours for adoptions?

Jim Monsma: The DC Animal Shelter is at 1201 New York Avenue, NE (by Brentwood Road). Its adoption hours are noon to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday, and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Washington Humane Society shelter is at 7319 Georgia Avenue, NW (by Walter Reed AMC). It's hours are noon - 4:00 p.m. every day.

You might want to look at current dogs and cats on our web site: www.washhumane.org. For information on local shelters other than ours and breed rescue groups, check out www.metropets.org.


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