Pets are not iPads: Thinking Outside the Animal Gift Box

puppy-wearing-red-bowIf you are a last minute holiday shopper, you may be tempted to buy Christmas or New Year gifts for loved ones without doing your homework.  This time of year, parents and partners can be easily persuaded to get the most heart-warming gift of them all: a cute and cuddly new animal.  It may seem like the sweetest gift idea, but often it is not most responsible decision.

Animals are unlike any other present.  They require a level of commitment and responsibility that few other holiday gifts do.  Often because people fail to recognize this, countless dogs, cats, birds, and other animals given as gifts during the holidays end up at animal shelters shortly after the New Year, facing a very uncertain future.

An animal gifted as a present isn’t a Christmas Day gift, it is a life-long commitment.  Let’s be clear here.  It’s not a gift for your life, but their life.  Thinking of getting that teeny, tiny, adorable tortoise?  Are you ready to ensure its care for well over a hundred years?  Do you want a dazzling parrot?  You can plan on 60 to even 100 years of care.  Even aquatic turtles live over 30 years of age.  The average lifespan of a cat is 13 – 17 years.  A dog’s average lifespan is 10 to 13 years.  Are you ready to dedicate yourself to this animal for that long? Animals are not just pets.  They are family members for life.

Ask yourself another tough question.  Have you considered the extent of responsibility, time, care, expenses, education, commitment, and love that this one animal will require?  These responsibilities last far past Christmas day.  Take the time and do your homework on what exactly is involved by adding an animal companion to your lifestyle.

Let’s take dogs for example.  When you decide to bring home a new canine companion, please understand that you are making a commitment for the entirety of that dog’s life.  So many people that have the best intentions rush this very important and life-long decision.

The honest and informative graphic below from The Uncommon Dog should help you and your family decide if you are truly ready to welcome a dog into your home at Christmas Time.

Graphic provided by The Uncommon Dog

When the kids, wife, husband, or partner pleads for a new adorable pet, answer their request with a realistic question:  “Are you fully committed to this soul for its life?”  If either of you cannot answer with an unequivocal yes, then you might want to reconsider.

Parents, no matter how well intentioned your child may seem about caring for a new animal family member, the reality is that you will inevitably end up being the true caretaker of that animal.  Deciding to give your son or daughter that puppy or kitten that he or she has been asking for is really a decision made by the adult, to add another living, breathing, needing member of your family – for which you, the parent will be ultimately responsible.  It’s not quite the same, or as easy as investing in an iPad.

kitty gift
After the holidays are over, animal shelters are literally overwhelmed with discarded “Christmas pets”

If you decide that “gifting” an animal isn’t the best decision, consider these options as an alternative:

  • Joining Petfinder’s Foster a Lonely Pet for the holidays program. You can give a shelter dog or cat a much-needed break from the stress of shelter life.
  • Donating in-kind goods; many shelters need used blankets, sheets, and towels to make the animals more comfortable. They often need food, toys, and medical supplies. Call or check online to see your shelter’s “wish list” items.
  • Give a goat and two chickens. Through Animal World Vision, goats nourish hungry children and families with healthy milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Make a donation to your local shelter or local humane society.
  • Start an animal food drive. This can be for an animal food bank in your community, or in conjunction with other charity drives that may be taking place through your work, house of worship, or other organization.
  • Volunteer at your local shelter. You can help by walking dogs, offer love, affection, and attention to cats, assist with adoption events, and many other ways that are much needed

Think outside the animal gift box. Find another creative, thoughtful way to show your love this season.

The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its
value. ― Charles Dudley Warner

The Season of Giving Back


We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. ― Winston Churchill

We call this the Season of Giving, but it doesn’t always feel like that. One of the things that I dislike about this holiday season is that the “consumer” tends to comes out in all of us.  We find ourselves rushing around, frantically buying random stuff or obligatory gifts for each other, instead of slowing down and giving back to people, animals, or organizations that need it most.

This season our family has decided to donate to each other’s favorite nonprofit organization instead of buying each other gifts. I have been asking for my family to do this for over a decade, but this will be the first year that we finally do it!  I am so grateful to be giving to others in need, instead of receiving.  

Recently I was excited to learn that the idea of giving to ones truly in need has gone global! Last year a new movement was started to create a national day of giving to kick off the season of giving!  It’s called Giving Tuesday And it’s today!! Each year it falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday to encourage the shopping community to start the season by giving back.  Since there are two days dedicated to shopping in connection with the holidays – Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shouldn’t there be at least one day focused on giving back?

Over 8,000 organizations in all 50 states have signed up as partners with Giving Tuesday! As I mentioned, this has gone global: significant Giving Tuesday campaigns are under way in countries all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Argentina and Singapore.

Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations. It was created to foster giving during a time of the year when there is a lot of focus on shopping.

Do Good Works and Help the Ones that are Doing Good

Giving Tuesday is a wonderful opportunity for us to give our money and resources to non-profit organizations who are doing great things behind the scenes and trying to make this world a better place for all living beings.

Countless non-profit organizations have signed up to be a part of Giving Tuesday to encourage people to help them out this holiday season!  Even animal shelter organizations are participating in a nationwide online donation drive.  Here are just a few cool ways to help people and shelter animals in need:

  • The National Animal Shelter Campaign is designed to raise pet food and other supplies for many of the shelters and rescues doing Good Work 24 hours a day. You Give Goods allows people to contribute to the campaign by simply visiting their website at You Give Goods Loves Animals.  From their website you select an organization to support, and then you choose the items you want to purchase, such as pet food or cleaning supplies. You Give Goods then handles the delivery of the donations to the shelters. Your donation will be delivered for you, directly to the shelter or rescue!  It’s that simple!  Learn more here.
  • In addition to the animal shelter campaign, You Give Goods also is conducting a Fresh Produce Drive to provide donations of nutritious food for people in need.
  • The Morris Animal Foundation has an incredible opportunity to make your donations go further!  A donor has agreed to give $100,000 to Morris Animal Foundation if they are able to raise the same amount by December 31, 2013.  This means that if you donated $25, $50, or $100, their benefactor will double that donation! Check out how you can make your donation go twice as far and do twice as much good for animals through the Season of Hope Gift Match!
  • Feral Fixers has also been blessed with two donors who have offered to match up to $2,000 worth of donations Giving Tuesday.  The funds will help support spay and neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and other costs associated with their Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs and rehoming the strays they take in.  Feral Fixers has spayed and neutered 6,000 cats in six years! Click here to donate, and reference “Black Cat Fundraiser”!

Tis the season to be unselfie

If you are on any kind of social media or networking site, chances are you have seen the famous “selfie” pic.  If you have not seen this, you can learn about what it is here. Fortunately, there is now a new trend to turn the selfie into an “un-selfie”.unselfie

This year was the year that “selfie” was named word of the year. ~Seriously.  But fortunately now there is a less selfish twist to it.  We are encouraged to post an “UNselfie” to our social media channels to spread the message of the season of giving.  This is how you do it:

1) Take a piece of paper and write the name of a charity you support.

2) Take your picture holding up the piece of paper in front of your face.

3) Upload the photo to your favorite social media page (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, or your blog) and remember to include the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie.

Note: Sharing your charitable efforts during this time of year isn’t intended to glorify your efforts, or your virtue, but rather to inspire others to give, and to educate your friends and family about the organization you choose to support.

Be “UNSELFIE”   Source: petapixel

You can see more creative Unselfies here!

Gifts for the Givers

Are you a volunteer?  Do you work for a nonprofit?  Do you rally for a cause?  The Case Foundation is kicking off this Season of Giving with the 5 Giving Tuesdays campaign.  When you visit their site and share how you’ll give back, you have a chance chance to win $100,000 in grants and prizes!  Visit here to learn more!

You can also download a helpful tool from Nonprofit Toolkit and add your logo, message and direct giving URL to kick off your giving season!

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.― Charles Dickens

Conscious Companion Recommended Organizations

How You Can Support People, Nature and Endangered Species Through Online Donations:

Those are just a few of the organizations that I have worked with or supported over the years. Each one of them makes huge advances in their respective fields, but I know there are millions more that do good work as well.  What are some nonprofits that you support? Please share them in the comments below!

For it is in giving that we receive. ― St. Francis of Assisi

Giving Tuesday


The Landfill Dogs

“The dog’s agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. “I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied.” 
― Caroline Knapp

Mistletoe ~ Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

Not long ago I came across something that really moved me, spoke to me deeply, and inspired me to help something greater than myself.

Shannon Johnstone, an art professor at Meredith College in North Carolina, recently launched the Landfill Dogs project.  Every week she takes one shelter dog on an afternoon outing and photographs him or her playing, frolicking, sniffing, lounging in the grass, and just being a dog at the state landfill where they will end up after they are euthanized. Yes, you heard right.  These dogs are on death row.

So why would someone even care to do this?  Johnstone explains:

These are not just cute pictures of dogs. These are dogs who have been homeless for at least two weeks, and now face euthanasia if they do not find a home. Each week for 18 months (late 2012–early 2014) I bring one dog from the county animal shelter and photograph him/her at the local landfill.

The landfill site is used for two reasons. First, this is where the dogs will end up if they do not find a home. Their bodies will be buried deep in the landfill among our trash. These photographs offer the last opportunity for the dogs to find homes.

The second reason for the landfill location is because the county animal shelter falls under the same management as the landfill. This government structure reflects a societal value; homeless cats and dogs are just another waste stream. However, this landscape offers a metaphor of hope. It is a place of trash that has been transformed into a place of beauty. I hope the viewer also sees the beauty in these homeless, unloved creatures.

As part of this photographic process, each dog receive a car ride, a walk, treats, and about 2 hours of much needed individual attention. My goal is to offer an individual face to the souls that are lost because of animal overpopulation, and give these animals one last chance. This project will continue for one year, so that we can see the landscape change, but the constant stream of dogs remains the same.

Here are a few of Shannon’s images that so beautifully capture the spirit of each dog: 

Momma: Impoundment #68215 Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone
Momma: Impoundment #68215
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.”
― Mark Twain

Rose: Impoundment #82564 Photo by: Mary Shannon Johnstone
Rose: Impoundment #82564
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Pigpen. Impoundment #85852. He never found a home.
Pigpen. Impoundment #85852.  He never found a home.

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
― Milan Kundera

Ice Frosting:  Impoundment #82263 Mary Shannon Johnstone
Ice Frosting: Impoundment #82263
Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
― Josh Billings

Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.This good girl is very busy, likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She does not miss meals, is extremely treat motivated, already knows "SIT".
Charo, impoundment #90561. She is still looking for a home. It has been 118 days.
This good girl likes to keep herself occupied, and LOVES to be around people. She never misses a meals, is extremely treat motivated, and she already knows “SIT”.    Photo by Mary Shannon Johnstone

“The assumption that animals are without rights, and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance, is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion in the only guarantee of morality.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality


Her images are poignantly beautiful.  Looking at these faces, I can’t help but think about the millions of dogs and cats that end up at landfills all over the world because of factors that we do have direct control over: lack of spaying and neutering, lack of planning and prevention, the endless need that we have to breed more and more dogs to satisfy the desire for a designer dog, or because dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters due to “behavioral problems” – many of which could be prevented with education, proper training, and socializing.  Every dog, cat, or other companion animal that ends up in these landfills is a life that could have been saved from such a fate.

It’s hard to not get emotional looking at this images, knowing the ground that the dogs are standing on, and what their fate will most likely be. But we can help them.

We do have the power to help all companion animals – right in our own backyards – that need our help.  We can speak up for them by sharing their story and their faces.  We can help other animal guardians avoid having to surrender their companion animals to shelters through education and training.  We can stress the importance of microchipping, spaying and neutering every cat and dog!  If someone can’t afford to spay or neuter their animal, we can show them that there are affordable spay and neuter options!  We can speak with our local shelters and ask to volunteer there, or even be a foster mom or dad to animals in need.  We can be an advocate for no-kill shelters and support their never-ending hard work. We can encourage our friends, coworkers, and family members to adopt dogs, cats, birds, etc, that need loving, forever homes, rather than buying from breeders. There are so many ways to prevent this.

These are not “abandoned pets” or “throw-aways”.  They are living beings with a soul. They deserve a life of compassion and mercy. Each one of them has so much love to give, so many lessons to teach us, and ways of opening our hearts so that we may know, feel, and understand unconditional love and acceptance.

Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  If it wasn't for Robeson County Humane Society, she would have been one of the Landfill Dogs.
Our Hocus Pocus was rescued from a no-kill shelter here in North Carolina.  Her mother was found pregnant along the  side of the highway during winter.  If it wasn’t for Robeson County Humane Society, Hocus, her mother, and all of her siblings would have all become Landfill Dogs.

Landfill Dogs who are still looking for homes:

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Landfill Dogs is a photographic project to showcase the beautiful souls of the most overlooked dogs, located in Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.  You can read the full story from The Unexamined Dog about Beautiful Animal Advocacy here.  To learn more about Shannon Johnstone’ project visit here.

To see most recent Landfill Dogs – the souls who are still in need of forever homes please see the Landfill Dogs facebook page or visit this gallery.  Landfill Dog Adoption info here!  Please share their story with others!

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” 
― Anatole France

How to Help Those Affected by Oklahoma Tornado

Tornado Oklahoma Collage

A record-sized tornado plowed through Oklahoma this Monday, leaving death and destruction in its wake.  People, companion animals, farm animals and other animals are now displaced and injured.   Even in the midst of chaos and destruction, humanity finds a way to shine; dozens of agencies are on the scene helping the injured and homeless by collecting food for animals, bringing in search and comfort dogs, and connecting lost companion animals with their people.

Lutheran Church Charities, which runs the LCC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, sent six dogs and nine trained handlers from Illinois and Indiana to Oklahoma City on Tuesday.  The plan is to make the dogs available for anyone affected by the tornado. They can spend time with the dogs and talk about their experience to the dogs.

“They are good listeners and help people process loss and tragedy,” said the charity’s president, Tim Hetzner.  The dogs and their handlers were invited to help by Messiah Lutheran Church in Oklahoma City.  The church plans to take the Illinois volunteers to The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.  The group will also visit shelters in Moore, Okla., where most of the tornado’s damage occurred, and the University of Oklahoma’s campus in Norman in an effort to help tornado victims and first responders directly, said Messiah Lutheran Church’s senior pastor Mark Muenchow.  “People will still be fairly shellshocked,” Muenchow said. “The dogs kind of take their focus off of it for a moment and allow them to kind of share.”

Comfort Dogs
Comfort Dogs Are In Oklahoma to Provide Comfort for Tornado Victims

Vetstreet has compiled information for those in need of help, and for those who would like to join the effort:

Oklahoma Tornado


How to Donate Food, Money and Supplies:

Search Dog Foundation: Based in California, this group is going into dangerous places to help rescue victims in Oklahoma. You can make a donation on its website.

Oklahoma City Animal Shelter: If you would like to donate for the animals, contact Cathryn English with the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter. It needs food, blankets, and towels right now, but it is best to call and ask first. Call (405) 297-3100 or (405) 297-3088.

Pet Food Pantry of Oklahoma City: This nonprofit is accepting food donations and offering dog food, cat food, leashes, collars, food bowls and other supplies to those in need. Call (405) 664-2858.

Central Oklahoma Humane Society is in need of towels, paper towels, gloves and food for volunteers. Donations can be dropped off at either 5420 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK, or 2905 70th St. NW, Oklahoma City, OK. Visit its website to make a donation to its disaster relief fund.

Operation OKdog is  trying to get a team of pet experts to Oklahoma to help animals in need. These are New Yorkers who are trying to make a difference for Oklahoma! They need funding. Please help by going here.

Join the “Diffuser Movement”!  Aromatherapy is helping animals affected by the tornadoes to move past their trauma and anxiety.  You can help to bring comfort to animals in need! Learn more here.

Lost and Found Animal Information: 

Animal Resource Center:  If you find displaced animals, you can take them to the Animal Resource Center at 7949 S. I-35 Service Road, Oklahoma City, OK, 73149.  The center is posting information on the pets it is caring for on its Facebook page.  It is also offering displaced people shelter for the night. Call (405) 604-2892.

Annie’s Ruff House is taking in dogs displaced by the storm.  It’s located at 1043 N. University Blvd., Norman, OK. Call (405) 310-3084.

The Edmond Sun Found Pets:  The local newspaper is posting descriptions of animals who have been found and are seeking their owners.

OKC Lost Pets:  This website was set up specifically to respond to this disaster. It is a virtual bulletin board for those who have lost or found pets.

Moore Oklahoma Tornado Lost and Found Animals:  Nearly 4,000 people are following this Facebook page, where you can post about lost and found pets.

McClain County Animal Response Team is posting information on lost and found animals on its Facebook page.  Contact Donnell Weatherall at (405) 301-7904 for animal rescuing and sheltering.

Oklahoma Animal Lost and Found Tornado Group is a Facebook group for sharing information on lost and found pets.

Resource for Displaced Horses: Yvette Fees has offered to take in displaced horses.  She lives in the Moore area but was not impacted by the tornado.  She has a trailer and can assist in transporting horses to her property.  She can be reached at (405) 589-0883 or at

1 Day Ranch:  The owner of this rescue is headed to Moore and says it can help with dogs, horses and other small livestock.  It also has some first aid items for animals who’ve sustained injuries, and can help with transport if needed.  Please contact Maeghan at (405) 226-1946 if you need any help.

Wildlife Ambassadors is offering temporary shelter for exotic animals (birds, ferrets, reptiles) at their USDA licensed facility.  Call 405-426-5642 or 405-863-7614.

Veterinarian Triage Areas and Clinics In The Area

Penn South Pet Clinic is a veterinary clinic that’s taking in lost pets.  Update: The triage area that was set up at Home Depot in Moore on Monday has been moved. Veterinary personnel are now offering care at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman. The address is 615 E. Robinson, Norman, OK 73071.  As the situation continues to change in Moore, there will likely be more groups offering help, and we want to get the word out.

For veterinarian-approved advice on caring for pets during natural disasters and other emergencies, please visit our disaster preparedness page.

Helping Horse Oklahoma tornado
A horse is rescued from the rubble of a barn that was destroyed during the massive tornado in Oklahoma

A Miracle Among the Destruction

Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease.  But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Visit the Red Cross website or text the word DONATE to the Red Cross number (90999) to give $25 or text the word REDCROSS to the same number to give $10.