June 11, 2020 – On Sunday, May 24, Lucia Lopez made the 384-mile round trip from Maspeth, Queens to the Susquehanna Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SQSPCA) to adopt Ocean, a two-year-old male cat unable to stand or walk since birth due to a neurological disorder.
Ocean had been at the animal shelter, located at 4841 State Route 28, Cooperstown, since February. His friendly personality and ability to move around quickly and even climb in spite of his impairment had made him a favorite of the SQSPCA staff.
Lopez is no stranger to the SQSPCA. A recent graduate of the SUNY-Cobleskill Animal Science program, she had interned at the shelter for several months last year.
As a Canine Training and Enrichment Specialist, Lopez assisted SQSPCA staff with three goals in mind: 1) increase the adoptability of shelter-housed dogs; 2) prevent returned adoptions due to unacceptable behaviors through positive reinforcement training and/or behavior modification techniques; and, 3) enhance the quality of the shelter dogs’ stay through enrichment activities.
“The internship job description and requirements stood out to me, as they spoke about training shelter dogs to prepare them for their future homes and creating enrichment activities to mentally stimulate them during their shelter stay,” Lopez said.
Lopez has a long history of caring for animals and helping animals in need.
“Whether it was my personal pets, pet sitting for neighbors, rescuing strays or feeding feral cats, I grew up around animals most of my life, and their welfare is something I have always been very passionate about. I first began working with animals my junior year of high school when I volunteered at an animal shelter,” she explained.
“This gained me the experience to work at a dog daycare in my senior year. There I got to see many different dogs of all sizes and temperaments. No two were alike and it was interesting to see them interact. My responsibilities included watching over the dogs in a safe and positive manner, knowing each of them personally, and recognizing their triggers,” Lopez said. “Once I arrived at SUNY-Cobleskill, I began working with dogs right away and took related courses such as therapy dog training, canine health, canine aggression, and domestic animal behavior, as well as tracking and trailing.”
Adopting Ocean will not be without its challenges. In addition to being unable to stand or walk independently for any length of time, he also has difficulty holding his head up and using a litter box. Thanks to a generous donor, the shelter’s animal care staff had been working to help Ocean build coordination with a special wheelchair, and they had seen positive results. Lopez will continue to use the wheelchair as well as other tools and techniques designed to increase body strength and improve stamina.
“We could not be happier for Ocean,” said SQSPCA Executive Director Stacie Haynes. “Lucia was a great asset to our team. She went above and beyond her internship requirements and often took her work home — fostering dogs, cats, and even a rabbit. Ocean could not be in better hands, and we look forward to hearing how he’s doing in his new home.
“Ocean is proof positive that, with a little patience and understanding, animals with special needs can find their ‘furever’ homes, too,” Haynes said.
UPDATE: Because her shifts are long, Lucia has been taking Ocean (now named Alaska) to work with her at an animal hospital in Bayside, Queens, where he gets to play with and help socialize a stray kitten awaiting adoption there. He has warmed up nicely to the other animals at home, too (see photo above with dog Bishop and cat Doug). He is a very good boy, Lucia said.
In operation since 1917, the Susquehanna SPCA is a 501c3 charitable organization committed to caring for homeless, surrendered, and seized companion animals and finding them loving, forever homes. For more information or to donate, visit www.sqspca.org