As Larry Shackman sits in the waiting room at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he browses through videos stored on his camera. The images include the abandoned and the discarded, dogs and cats both healthy and sickly, that were lucky enough to wind up in the Shackmans’ home; that were lucky enough to benefit from Shackman’s simple belief that all living things deserve a good life.
Shackman is not a famous movie star with an organization to promote or an axe to grind. He is a person who believes that people should do what they can to prevent and stop suffering. Through his rescue efforts with the organization Feline Friendz, he and his wife Diane’s own adoptions (currently nine cats, including three with special needs, and two dogs), and his donations to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Shackman takes very personally his responsibility to make a difference in the lives of animals cast off by society.
“In the last year, we’ve seen a lot more animal abandonment, people dumping their dogs in the countryside and cats that have been raised and socialized with people, but now living on their own,” said Shackman, who is president of the Feline Friendz organization in Omaha, Neb. “Through Feline Friendz, we trap, neuter and return feral cats; and we foster and work to place in homes cats that have been socialized, but have been abandoned.”
Shackman usually winds up fostering the special needs animals, including litters of kittens abandoned intentionally or unintentionally by their mothers, and all other types of medical maladies including caring for a litter that had a viral infection resulting in one kitten with cerebral hypoplasia. In addition to his feline rescue, Shackman also has taken in dogs with special needs. One of those dogs, Abby, brought Shackman to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for the first time.
“Abby was a rescue yellow lab who came to us with juvenile cataracts and bad back legs,” said Shackman. “When we got her, one leg had been fixed, so we took care of the other one. She had a titanium splint and had to have a knee reshaped. She did well for a few years, but then, in 1999, she was diagnosed with bone cancer. Our veterinarian said that if we wanted to try to save the leg, go to CSU.”
The cancer had spread too far to save Abby, though she received chemo and radiation therapy at the Animal Cancer Center and lived for eight more months. Shackman was impressed by the care Abby had received at CSU, and created a fund in Abby’s nickname, (for her titanium-enhanced leg) the A. Cydog Charitable Trust, to benefit cancer research at the hospital.
Over the years, Shackman has brought more of his foster and adopted companions to CSU, including a kitten named Clarence with a mild case of cerebral hypoplasia who was eventually adopted by a CSU veterinary student. Now, Shackman has brought Jake, another rescue dog, this time a golden retriever with a tumor in the nerve sheath that goes into the brain.
At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Jake is undergoing a relatively new treatment where he is receiving higher doses of radiation for a shorter duration of treatment. Jake has been a member of the Shackman family since 2001 when he was rescued from a shelter where he wound up as a result of a divorce.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. For Larry Shackman, he sees both the greatness and weakness of his fellow human beings – rescuers who foster, and others who abandon without thought to suffering. But he continues to persist with the belief that, as long as quality of life is good, every animal in his care deserves a chance.
(Today, Jake is back home in Nebraska where the Shackmans are waiting and watching to see how Jake will respond to the therapy he received at CSU.)