April 24-30, 2022 is National Volunteer Week!
I would like to devote this week to animal shelter volunteers. As an overview, volunteers provide assistance in cleaning, feeding, walking, and providing enrichment for the animals. Such personal interaction and socialization of an animal improves its adoptability. The volunteers who know the idiosyncrasies of each animal then relay that information to other volunteers who create social media posts, stage photo sessions, edit video sessions and publish that information in hopes of finding the perfect forever family.
Next, another group of volunteers work the ‘phone lines,’ networking with rescues across the country, some of whom specialize in particular breeds, medical conditions, or behavioral traits. They field responses from potential fosters and rescues and must determine within minutes whether the applicants are legitimate or trying to procure animals for ill purposes. They scour the internet for charitable tax information, reviews, social media presence, any insight regarding an organization’s legitimacy and stability before releasing a pet to their care. Rescues themselves, have their own network of fosters, each thoroughly vetted via veterinarian records and verified references. Without fosters, the cost of care is prohibitive to these non-profits.
Once a rescue is identified and foster found, the next challenge is getting that animal from the shelter to the foster, before it is euthanized. Oh! I forgot to mention there are so many animals in the shelter, volunteers must prioritize the animals at highest risk, the ones scheduled for euthanasia. With hundreds of new animals arriving at the shelter every single day, shelter staff have the dreaded task of giving the death sentence to those animals considered least adoptable due to behavioral issues, health, age, or length of stay at the shelter. It truly is a matter of life and death for volunteers to find a solution for each of these pets before a ‘certain hour’. My own foster fail, Marcus, was on the euthanasia list because he was so terrified to the point he wouldn’t walk.
But look at Marcus now! Turns out he is actually a chihuahua mix with over a dozen other breeds mixed in, a true Texas Mix!
Next come the transport volunteers who donate their time and mileage to deliver a dog from the shelter to their new residence. We call these “Freedom Rides.” Drivers, not professional photographers, take the freedom ride photos and relay them back to the social media volunteers for updating the posts. Then come the pledge chat volunteers who notify the people who have pledged money to save specific pets, give them the contact information for the responsible rescue and all the necessary payment information to honor their pledge.
WHEW! It is a lot of work! It truly takes a village of volunteers, a lot of time and money to save one dog, or cat but statistics prove volunteers are making a significant difference. According to research by the Best Friends Society, animal shelter euthanasias decreased from 17 million in 1984 to 347,000 in 2020. That is amazing progress in the right direction! Progress only made possible by the efforts of so many volunteers.
However, such efforts are not a good long-term solution. Volunteers are exhausted. Rescues are stretched thin. The stress of minute-to-minute, life-or-death situations takes a psychological and physical toll on volunteers who have looked into the eyes of vulnerable animals, worked frantically to save them, then had the experience of failing in their mission. To lose one is like losing a dear friend. Compassion fatigue is overwhelming. Adding insult to injury are the internet trolls spewing vitriol on social media outlets, cursing and name-calling volunteers as “murderers,” “killers,” “heartless,” etc.
If this has been you, keep in mind, the only reason you are able to see these disturbing images and hear of these euthanasias in the first place, is because the shelter has allowed volunteers to provide such transparency. In Houston, the shelters receiving the majority of the complaints have over a 90% live-release record. That means 9 out of 10 animals that enter the shelter, leave alive. What you aren’t seeing is the many other counties that don’t have the funding of the 4th largest city in the country. Most counties have minimal to no facilities for holding animals, therefore if the owner does not retrieve their animal, they have no choice but euthanasia. Smaller counties also do not have the large populations of people from which to draw volunteers. So, the next time you want to hurl insults at a volunteer, bite your tongue and thank them instead. If you truly want to yell at someone, contact your legislators. We need more stringent legislation against animal cruelty, we need to prohibit inhumane methods of euthanasia, we need more low cost spay and neuter options, we need more public education on humane treatment of animals, we need to decrease the stray population, not punish those who are doing their best to empty the shelters.
Of course, this is only half the journey to rescuing an animal. The rest of the journey involves foster care, providing medical care or behavioral training, basically teaching the animal to be a good family member, then finding its perfect forever family, preferably in a state where pets are not as abundant and transporting said pet to their new home. That story will have to wait for another day because right now, I’ve got animals that need me.
*Photos are my own, except for the shelter card for my adoptee, Marcus.
You had me all warm and fuzzy until you got to euthanasia 🥲. Nice recognition of the different roles though and Marcus is adorable 💕💕.
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He is one of a kind for sure!
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Along with individual people, society collectively can also be quite cruel towards cats, especially ‘unwanted’ felines. For example, it was reported a few years ago that Surrey, B.C., had an estimated 36,000 feral cats, very many of which suffer severe malnourishment, debilitating injury and/or infection.
Yet the municipal government, as well as aware yet uncaring residents, did little or nothing to help with the local non-profit Trap/Neuter/Release program, regardless of its (and others’) documented success in reducing the needlessly great suffering. And I was informed last autumn by Surrey Community Cat Foundation that, if anything, their “numbers would have increased, not decreased, in the last 5 years.”
It’s the only charity to which I’ve ever donated, in no small part because of the plentiful human callousness towards the plight of those cats and the countless others elsewhere. These include the cats I too-often learn about, whose owners have allowed to wander the neighborhood at night only to be tortured to death by cat-haters procuring sick satisfaction. … At age 54, I’ve long observed that higher human intelligence is typically accompanied by a seemingly proportional reprehensible potential for evil, or malice for malice’s sake.
I believe there’s a subconscious yet tragic human-nature propensity to perceive the value of life (sometimes even human life in regularly war-torn or overpopulated famine-stricken global regions) in relation to the conditions enjoyed or suffered by that life. With the mindset of feline disposability, it might be: ‘Oh, there’s a lot more whence they came’. Yet, these mammals’ qualities, especially their non-humanly innocence, make losing them such a great heart break for their owners.
Only when overpopulations of unwanted cats are greatly reduced in number by responsible owners consistently spaying/neutering their felines might these beautiful animals’ presence be truly appreciated.
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This is actually what started my journey into pet rescue. There was a report of a kitten having been set afire then thrown onto a neighbor’s roof, which led to an onslaught of comments of other torturous occurrences. I began volunteering at a local animal shelter and also got involved in a TNR program. Two of my own cats were feral, black kittens I socialized and kept for myself out of fear they would not be adopted. There has also been proving relationship between animal abuse and human abuse. Greater enforcement of animal cruelty laws is a start to deterring domestic violence or identifying mental illness.
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It’s mindboggling how much mindless, even inexplicable, violent contempt there is out there for these beautiful mammals to do such horrific things to them!
Also worrisome are the plausibly problematic negative attitudes toward cats openly expressed by news-media commentators, whose recklessly worded views can be influential. For example, the otherwise progressive national commentator Vicky Mochama proclaimed in one of her syndicated columns that “I never liked cats”. In another she wrote that Canadian politicians should replace their traditional unproductively rude heckling with caterwauling:
“My vote is for meowing because I don’t like cats and I’d like to sabotage their brand as much as possible. So if our elected politicians are going to be disrespectful in our House of Commons, they might as well channel the animal that holds us all in contempt.” [I search-engined the Internet but found nothing as to the reason(s) behind her publicized anti-feline sentiments. Still, if her motives were expressed, perhaps she’d simply say, ‘I just do not like cats.’]
Then there’s the British Columbia community newspaper editor who wrote a column about Sarnia, Ontario courthouse protestors demanding justice in 2014 for a cat shot in the head 17 times with a pellet gun, destroying an eye. Within her piece, the editor rather recklessly declared: “Hey crazy people, it’s [just] a cat.”
In a follow-up column, the editor expressed surprise at having then received some very angry responses, including a few implied threats, from cat lovers and animal rights activists. Apparently, she couldn’t relate to the intensely heartfelt motivation behind the public outrage, regardless of it being directed at such senseless cruelty to an innocent animal; therefore the demonstrators were somehow misguided. … The court may have also perceived it so, as the charges against the two adult-male perpetrators were dropped.
The editor had also noted how disturbed she was to learn of (unrelated) opinion poll results revealing that the vast majority of pet owners would choose saving the life of their pet over that of another person. She was astonished, regardless of the hypothetical other person being a complete stranger.
I wrote to her that, to me, it makes perfect sense: Especially with their pets’ un-humanly innocence, how could the owners not put their beloved animal’s life first?!
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I live in the rural area. A couple of months back someone dumped or abandoned seven dogs, four were puppies in our area. People think their dogs will find a home as people in the country love animals….wrong. My income is sheep. Abandoned dogs get hungry, and lamb is easy to catch. I contacted the Animal Control in the area to pick up the dog on our place, and they would not come, they had no room to house the dog. They asked us to take care of it and find it a home.
When a dog is abandoned in a rural setting, the owner has given their pet a death sentence. If the coyotes, mountain lions or pigs do not kill it, a rancher will protecting their livestock from a hungry dog. Puppies abandoned are at higher risk as owls and vultures will kill them. Plus, they are not smart enough to stay off the roads away from moving cars.
I have lived at my location for 14 years. The last year and currently there are more abandoned dogs in my neighborhood than previously. This year we have had four abandoned dogs at our place since January.
Thanks to volunteers who use their own resources and work hard to find homes for abandoned dogs. I do appreciate their work.
“When a dog is abandoned in a rural setting, the owner has given their pet a death sentence.” You are absolutely right. Not only must they face starvation and wild animals, they also face farmers and ranchers who will shoot any animal crossing onto their property. The majority of my pets were strays I found abandoned on my property or nearby and lured back to my house with food. In most states, it is a crime to abandon an animal, so people drive miles away where they won’t be recognized or the dog won’t make its way home. If you surrender to a shelter, you are charged a fee. I paid around $75 to surrender an abandoned animal to a no-kill shelter. It’s also sadly not uncommon in the country to shoot or drown your own animals in lieu of spaying or neutering. There have been many efforts to increase awareness of the need for spaying and neutering, as well as, free vouchers to provide those services but there is still a long way to go towards responsible pet ownership, which is also cost-prohibitive for most families to provide adequate fencing and veterinary care for their animals.
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