Growing up, a couple of my favorite bedtime movies included Lady and the Tramp and 100 and 1 Dalmatians. What do these two all-time favorites have in common? Well the obvious would be the similarity in main characters, all friendly, talking pooches. But one subtle thing that we may not remember about these films was the integration of the pound, or the animal shelter. There has and continues to be an unrealistic idea drilled into our heads of not only small children, but also our adults, of the animal shelter being dark, mucky, scary places, and the employees as antagonistic “bad-guys“.
Looking back, when I was a little-girl, I would have never believed that some day I would actually work for these so called “bad-guys“.
I’m going to tell you something that may come as a shock. The shelter employees I have worked with are some of the biggest-hearted people you will ever meet. You have to be, or you would not last one day there. Let me walk you through my typical day at the animal shelter.
I get there, and walk through 4 rows of hundreds of stray dogs to the area where I work, the intake bay. Sometimes, I have to turn my head by certain kennels because I can’t bear to look at a few of my “favorites”. Once I get to the intake bay, I am thrown into the swing of whatever is going on (could be stray dogs on animal control trucks, or owners surrendering their unwanted pets, or public drop offs of litters of puppies). You never stop because the dogs never stop. They pour into the shelter. You can politely ask people to find another way, warn them that their dog may be euthanized, even offer to vaccinate and spay/neuter their dog if they can foster it, and 9/10 times, they will still leave the dog at our shelter. Some days are good, when under 10 dogs come in, but most days are bad, with intake numbers in the 50′s. I vaccinate them, give them the most positive attention I can in the short amount of time I’m with them, then walk them to a kennel, fill their water bowl, and move onto the next dog.
The rest of the staff are doing their normal activities: adoption counsel works on getting dogs out of the shelter into good homes, vet staff takes care of all injured animals and performs countless spay/neuter surgeries, and kennel workers maintain the cleanliness to prevent disease outbreak while also letting dogs out to play. Everyone does what they need to do. Rarely do you see an employee sitting down, and it is a good day when you have enough time to take a lunch break.
One thing I’ve learned working at the shelter about the minds of many people, is that we tend to blow-up anything negative, and over-look anything positive. You never hear about the great adoption stories, the countless lives saved, or the late nights employees spend at the shelter (sometimes until 9-10 o’clock). We happen to forget about the animals who are reunited with their owners and the vet staff’s caring efforts to maintain the comfort of injured animals.
Instead, employees are called names such as killers. We often speak of them and bash them as if taking in homeless dogs and humane euthanasia are things they enjoy doing. Maybe its just because we have a preconceived notion of what the animal shelter really is, from childhood movies, or other stories told to us. Maybe, we should come spend a day at the animal shelter to see what its really like before morphing into arm-chair activists.
Recently, after much contemplation and sleepless nights, I’ve made the gut-wrenching decision to get my CAET. This means I will be certified to humanely euthanize companion animals. Why on earth would I do this? Who in their right mind would want to do this? Well, the correct, and obvious answer, is NO ONE. No one wants to euthanize an animal, injured or not. The simple, undeniable truth is that while we are impounding over 400 dogs a month, it has to happen. Watching my coworkers struggle with the euthanasia of these lives on their shoulders is simply unfair. Until the day that people I care about do not have to take on this heavy task of euthanasia, and until the day that our community comes to realize that lives of companion animals are not simply disposable, I will continue to fight.
So yes, it upsets me greatly when I hear someone is quick to bash the animal shelter, especially if they have never set foot in a shelter, calling the employees heartless, uncaring, individuals, when the reality of it is, to be a shelter employee, you have to be strong. You have to have a big heart. And you absolutely have to care.
When animal-lovers think about over population and euthanasia, we are quick to want to place blame on someone. It hurts, and we are so angry, and we want to hold someone accountable. I understand this, because I am angry too. But I’m telling you, the shelter staff and technicians are not where the blame should be placed. The shelter employees lose enough sleep, trying to cope with the huge amount of stress and weight that our community has forced on our shoulders. The actual sources of animals coming into the shelter are who/what needs to be held accountable, not the staff working to save the animals’ lives. So please, think twice before down-talking the animal shelter.
Come out and help us instead! Volunteer for a day. Foster a dog. Donate.