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July in animal news: Five questions with American Humane Assn. Vice President Debrah Schnackenberg

August 2, 2010 | 10:18 pm

We're asking experts in the animal-protection community to offer their insights on the latest animal news and fill us in on what their organizations are working on. Debrah Schnackenberg, vice president of the American Humane Assn.'s Animal Emergency Services division, offers her take on the importance of planning for animals' safety in the event of emergencies, a huge effort to find new adoptive homes for needy cats in Pennsylvania and how her own search-and-rescue dog inspires her. Schnackenberg's responses represent her own views and not necessarily ours.

DebrahSCropped Unleashed: What do you view as the most important development in animal news to happen in July?

Debrah Schnackenberg: There are two that come to mind. On July 28, Michigan's House of Representatives passed landmark legislation authored by American Humane to effectively end the 30-year practice of pound seizure -- pet dealers taking shelter dogs and cats for sale to research facilities.

If you can imagine the horror of having your family pet wind up in a shelter and then be sold to a dealer for scientific experiments before it can be picked up or find a new home, you can imagine the importance of this legislation. HB 4663 (also known as Koda's Law in honor of a dog that died after being a victim of pound seizure) would prevent Class B dealers (named after their type of U.S. Department of Agriculture license) from engaging in the practice of providing shelter animals around the nation to research laboratories for experimentation. There are currently nine Class B dealers that broker live animals for experimentation in the United States; three are located in Michigan.

The bill will now move to the Michigan Senate for consideration, and American Humane will continue to advocate strongly for its passage.

We also made history when American Humane took part in a cat adopt-a-thon during the July 4th holiday weekend in St. Marys, Pa. Our Red Star Animal Emergency Services team had traveled there to assist the ASPCA and others in the seizure and care of approximately 400 cats from unsanitary and overcrowded conditions at a cat sanctuary. Our responders spent two weeks after the seizure caring for and treating the majority of the cats and kittens for an array of upper respiratory and eye/ear infections. We ended the deployment by participating in the adopt-a-thon -- the largest ever attempted -- during which 132 cats were adopted out in two days! This was a tremendous achievement, especially given that many of the cats were feline-leukemia positive. The remaining cats were transported from the temporary shelter to permanent animals shelters elsewhere, where they will be safely housed until they find their forever homes.

Unleashed: What were American Humane's biggest projects in July?

Schnackenberg: On July 30, we launched our new Animal Behavior Resources Institute (ABRI) website, a free pet training and animal behavior resource that features leading animal behavior professionals in action through an extensive video library. It also includes podcasts, articles and the latest research reports and news about animal behavior and training. All the information on the website is based on scientific, evidence-based techniques and approaches as practiced by the nation's leading experts in animal behavior. American Humane's goals for the website are to increase pet adoptions, reduce euthanasia, promote the human-animal bond, and serve as a valuable resource to animal welfare and companion animal professionals.

American Humane also raised more than $15,000 in July to help animal shelters that are taking in surrendered pets in the Gulf Coast area whose owners can no longer afford to care for them due to the economic impacts of the oil spill. The first grant went to the Louisiana SPCA to help 167 animals receive veterinary treatment so they can be transported to shelters where they will have better chances for adoption. American Humane is currently seeking additional funds to be able to provide grants to shelters when unforeseeable disasters put animals at risk. To donate, visit AmericanHumane.org.

Unleashed: What will American Humane be working on in August?

Schnackenberg: Disaster preparedness and hurricane response are a couple of our top priorities this month. Our Emergency Services team provides training to communities and individual responders year-round, and this time of year we pay particular attention to potential hurricane activity, because of its ability to impact so many people and animals. We constantly monitor the weather data and stay in close touch with agencies and communities that may need our services, so we can respond at a moment's notice.

In addition, planning efforts are well under way for American Humane's Adopt-a-Dog Month in October. We are collaborating with other organizations to prepare materials and get the adoption message out to the public, to help shelters continue their great work of finding permanent, loving homes for as many animals as possible.

Unleashed: How can interested animal lovers help in August?

Schnackenberg: Now that we're in the heart of hurricane season, it's important for everyone to have a family disaster preparedness plan in place that includes pets and livestock. It's vital to develop a plan before disaster strikes, when you have the time to think through all the steps and gather emergency supplies. Since most disasters occur with little or no warning, a plan can make the difference between life and death -- for people and animals. Disaster preparedness tips are available on American Humane's website and on FEMA's website. Anyone who is interested in becoming an animal emergency first-responder should get appropriate training, such as the type American Humane offers. We only use volunteers who have undergone appropriate training and have the credentials for properly and safely working in emergency situations.

There are other important ways to help animals, regardless of what month it is. This is especially true about supporting local animal shelters and rescue groups. Animal lovers can contact their local shelter and ask how they can best help -- by donating, volunteering or adopting a pet.

Unleashed: What animal has had the biggest impact on your own life? Why?

Schnackenberg: My Belgian sheepdog, Kiowa, had a life-changing impact on me, both in terms of what I learned from her [and] how our relationship affected my own course in life. When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, I sat glued to my TV, in shock, watching the news coverage of the aftermath. As I watched, I became fascinated and inspired by the teams of search-and-rescue dogs and handlers working the disaster scene in New York City. I wanted to help. I said to myself, "I can do that." At the time, Kiowa was only 10 weeks old. I then researched search-and-rescue information, eventually became a search-and-rescue dog handler and joined a search-and-rescue team. I found that that's where my passion lies. I joined American Humane as the head of Red Star Animal Emergency Services, while still continuing to volunteer with a county search-and-rescue team.

The things I learned from Kiowa were different from anything that my years of owning pets had ever brought me before. With Kiowa, I experienced the special bond that a handler has with her working dog, which was different from the other forms of the human-animal bond that I'd felt. It's a gift that has enriched both my personal and professional life. Kiowa made all this possible for me.

Debrah Schnackenberg joined the American Humane Assn. in 2006 as the director of the Red Star Animal Emergency Services Division. Under her leadership, the Red Star team has responded to numerous disaster events, including wildfires, floods, hurricanes, hoarding situations and commercial puppy mill seizures. For two years, she led the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, a coalition of nine national animal rescue organizations formed after Hurricane Katrina to develop more effective animal evacuation procedures for use across the country, and she is currently working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on an Animal Emergency Response Working Group composed of experienced practitioners for advice on improving and implementing animal disaster response within the National Incident Management System.

Photo: Debrah Schnackenberg. / Credit: American Humane Assn.

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