Since I began working inside our local animal services shelter system, the sad reality for domesticated animals has become far more personal to me. Many people tell me the exact same thing: “I couldn’t bear to work in the shelter; it would be too sad.” Of course, the best way to make it more joyous is to volunteer and help get more animals adopted. Our local shelter only requires four hours per month commitment, and one may just work in the laundry or behind a desk if that is how you prefer to spend your time. I talked myself into signing up by choosing humane education and photography as potential duties; I had difficulty getting through the orientation and facility tour due to the emotional impact of seeing so many distressed, caged animals. But I persevered, and signed up anyway. After all, four hours per month is not too much to squeeze into a busy life, right?
Volunteers Save Lives
But lately our shelter has been overflowing with wonderful, beautiful, smart and engaging dogs, and I have been spending every single minute I possibly could spend at the shelter. Volunteers on the adoption floor can be the difference between a disgruntled potential adopter who leaves, and a happy adopter with a new family member. It makes catching up on household duties, running a nonprofit, and maintaining several blogs seem suddenly less significant. When the adoption floor is not busy, there are always dogs that desperately need grooming so they might capture a heart, and large dogs that need to get out of their kennels for a brief time in the kennel runs so they will be better behaved when they meet with a potential adopter. Each visit with a dog or cat, whether inside or outside (dogs only), requires either spraying with a weak bleach solution or mopping the floor with the same, in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. For cats, the chance of survival is even less than for the canines, but the live release rate is getting higher and higher with an army of volunteers leading the way towards innovative solutions, and with a shelter staff that is committed to the same.
While all the volunteers seem to care about all the animals, there are admittedly a few that break our hearts. One was a very smart and beautiful dog that kept getting overlooked for adoption. He was exhibiting signs of kennel stress, and would be a bit too eager to get outside, a bit too much to handle in the small Meet and Greet indoor rooms. Because of the Texas heat, it was often difficult to convince human visitors that the kennel runs might be the best place to meet with a large dog. All the volunteers knew that Abraham was running out of time. Despite his beautiful lean physique, his handsome face, gorgeous white and light tan coloring and his amazing intelligence, this big boy was suddenly on the Urgent List. He appeared to be a Shepherd or Lab mix but his large erect ears and noble face were unique only to him. He would beseech us with his eyes, and it seemed he knew his time was quickly running out.
A Doomed Dog
We sent round photos of this beautiful guy on our Facebook pages, begged for rescues and fosters, and hoped for the best. We have two groups, Friends and Partners of our shelter, that work tirelessly to get the word out about our at risk animals, and they went into overdrive to save Abe. Finally someone drove from afar to take Abraham home with her. He was well-behaved in the kennel run and his potential rescuer was enchanted. That is, until another dog came into the neighboring kennel run and Abraham wanted to play so badly, he began chewing through the chain link fence with a frenetic quality that is hard to describe. He wasn’t trying to get OUT – that side of the fence was totally ignored. He just wanted to make contact with someone of his own species. There was no aggression in his desperation, just dysfunctional behavior that frightened away his final prospect. Abraham seemed doomed. My heart sank and the lovely young woman declined to adopt him and instead adopted a more manageable dog. Bless her heart for adopting and opening up a kennel space, but our big boy was on the EU list (euthanasia) for the very next day if he wasn’t claimed by 2 pm.
Before I headed to the shelter on the final day, I contacted another member of our volunteer group who is also a member of our local animal rights group. I offered to pay his fees if someone else could house him til we could place him. It was an absolutely insane idea, since by partner in crime already has three dogs and I have no fenced yard and a home with a reigning elderly feline. Despite concerns, she decided to take the risk to get him out of there – sometimes love wins over wisdom. But all the way to work I kept thinking it would be unfair to my pal or her three dogs and would probably end up costing her money in fees if he got out and ran rampant around the neighborhood. As I locked my car, I kept trying to decide what the ethical thing was for me to choose –putting my friend at risk or leaving Abraham to his fate. My heart was in my shoes as I lumbered towards the doors of the shelter, uncertain how I would make it through the day if I knew they were coming for Abraham at 2 pm. The reality for these animals was so stark, and all my coping mechanisms seemed to be failing.
As I reached the front door, a beautiful and athletic young woman who had been at the shelter the day before told me she was going to get Abraham – he was in Receiving, getting ready to leave the shelter, hopefully for the last time. (Some of our animals are returned, so there is no guarantee that even a good home means permanent safety.) She knew I was in love with this dog as she had spoken to me about him earlier in the week. I asked if I could take a photo of him leaving with her and she gave her consent. She later posted a photo of Abe in his new backyard, looking positively radiant.
Attitudes Save Lives
What really saved Abraham was a group effort and a belief that animals are worth saving. Due to the work of Nathan Winograd and many others, attitudes about shelter animals are changing and are facilitating more and more shelter adoptions. If our community could just get a few more percentage points of people adopting from shelters rather than buying from breeders or pet stores, all our animals could be placed. (For cats, TNR would also need to be implemented.) Every person that cross posts on Facebook and on other social media helps to save lives. Every volunteer who works in the front or back of animal services helps save lives. And, while I rejoice when a beautiful loving spirit like Abraham is saved, I never forget about the billions of animals that are unseen and die as market commodities for food, clothing, or entertainment. Still there are now four vegans volunteering at the shelter, and another one that is just getting started, bringing our numbers up to five. Every venue is a perfect place to increase understanding about how all animals matter and every day is a new opportunity towards respecting and saving animal lives.
For Abraham, all that matters is he is now home and he is now loved. Happy life, big guy, happy life!