From My Window Shelter FriendsIssue Date: March 15, 2019
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
I volunteer some hours every week at an animal shelter. This particular shelter is "privately operated" " it does not receive any taxpayer money; and is run by a small board. It has an unusual and tightly focused mission " it is a no-kill shelter, and it only takes in and tries to re-home animals that are surrendered by owner. A fee is charged to surrender animals " the fee helps defray the cost of necessary medical examinations, quarantine prior to health clearance, spay or neutering, and other care. It does not take strays, those are referred to the county Humane Society. As you can imagine, fundraising is an endless job. Donations of money are critically important for vet care; while food, toys and beds are welcomed, money is way more flexible and the pets here, especially, often need special food.
Once my shelter accepts an animal, it will not be euthanized unless it is terminally ill and suffering, or is dangerous to people.
As a result, many of the animals here have "special needs." Their owners cared enough about them to be put on a lengthy waiting list to surrender them, and they were willing to pay around $200 to get them accepted. But for a variety of reasons, they no longer could, or would, keep the pet themselves.
Most of the animals are middle aged or elderly. Three are insulin-dependent diabetics, two are blind. One of the cats is a gorgeous biter, one of the dogs does not get along with any other animals. There are two rabbits " and one, an enormous French Lop, bites and scratches like a demon. Consequently, some of these animals will be at the shelter for a long time " six months is not uncommon. There are not that many people who will or can afford to adopt an animal that may require ongoing expensive medical care, is elderly, or has behavioral challenges.
On the other hand, some of the animals can be transformed at the shelter. One cat came in so grossly overweight, at 30 pounds, that he could no longer use the litterbox or clean himself. As a result, he was densely matted. Several months of a strict diet and regular exercise and brushing has him nearly ready for a home, with his coat sleek and shiny again. I love watching him roll over on the floor at playtime, waving his legs in the air because he wants attention. Someone will adopt this charming big boy, still a bit over 20 pounds, and have a wonderful companion " as long as they commit to maintaining his diet, since he's still way too big.
It is sad to read the surrender paperwork, but helps me understand the animals. Pets surrendered here come from all over Wisconsin. We have one from Mineral Point and one from Rhinelander, for example, " reflecting the unusual mission of this shelter. Surrender of some of these animals at a regular shelter might soon result in their euthanization. A typical shelter that takes strays has many young, cute, healthy kittens, puppies, dogs and cats to find homes for " holding a kennel for an animal that requires expensive vet care during its stay and would be passed up by most potential adoptees could be costing several young, healthy animal their lives when overcrowding at the facility makes euthanization a necessity.
One tiny, quaking Chihuahua, 10 years old, apparently spent nearly all his time on his elderly owner's lap. He is bewildered at his new home in a crate. A middle-aged German shepherd barks in an intimidating way at anyone who comes near her kennel. Not too many people want to take home a big dog that looks as scary as she does. I suspect she will be with us for quite a while. I also know in the right hands, she'd be amazing.
There are three sets of "bonded" cats that will only be placed in a new home together. This policy preserves the close relationship the cats have, and would ease their transition to a new home, but it means people who only want one cat can't adopt them. One pair, who I find very winsome, have been at the shelter for a year.
A Corgi is around 10 and has numerous health issues. I carry him carefully from his kennel outdoors to relieve himself, because despite his prescriptions, even a short walk is almost too much for him.
The other category of animals we get are surrender "breeder dogs." This may be the thing I struggle with the most. Large scale breeders, almost always of popular small dogs like poodles and Yorkshire terriers; and those mixed "designer crosses," surrender middle aged dogs that have been used to produce constant litters of puppies for sale. I say "produced" because their life was factory-like.
They are not housebroken, because they lived their entire lives in crates or kennels, with no choice but to eliminate in their enclosure. They are afraid of nearly everything including people, because they are not used to being petted, and they have no idea what a toy is. Anyone adopting these animals has to be committed to housebreaking an adult dog, and helping them learn "how to be a dog," because they arrive not knowing how to enjoy life; indeed, they arrive not knowing humans can be loving. They are usually frightened when they go outside, since they often lived their entire lives caged indoors, and they don't connect the outdoors to interesting smells, sights and sounds. Luckily for them, these little dogs usually get adopted pretty quickly, despite their ages and the work and patience it will take to turn them into pets. But it is a reminder for me of the sad state of countless dogs utilized in the "puppy mill" industry. I had a bad opinion of puppy mills before I ever met these breeder dogs, now I am pretty militant. Please, be careful, very careful, when buying a small purebred or designer-cross puppy. If the seller wants to "deliver" or "meet up" to transfer the dog, or the source is on-line or a pet store, take a pass. Even a parking lot puppy bought from the back of a pickup can be sourced from a puppy mill. If you saw where these puppies came from, you would not feel good about your new pet purchase at all.
The shelter is well-lit, sparkling clean and well run. A veterinarian on the shelter board visits several times a week to review how all the pets are doing and update their care notes, a real luxury. All the dogs get walked numerous times a day, and cats and rabbits get "play time" out of their crates. All the kennels are cleaned daily, and enrichment items like toys, treats and human socialization are a focus. There are several incredible volunteers, some way older than me, who spend long days working hard on a regular basis, early mornings, nights, weekends and holidays. The volunteers do these best they can to care for not only the animal's physical needs but also provide some love and affection. Time is spent building trust with the ones who do not expect good things to come with human contact, as an investment to help improve their chances of finding a new home.
But a shelter is not a home. New animals flow in; the barking dogs spook some of the cats and even some of the other dogs. No amount of volunteer attention is the same as a loving owner in a stable and familiar home.
I very seldom feel sad at the shelter; there is too much to do; and I am very busy. But when I get home, and am greeted by my own animal friends, I tell them how truly blessed they are; and I believe they understand me.
And I'd ask you for your help. Not everyone can volunteer at a shelter, but there are two things everyone could do to solve our pet overpopulation problems. Please spay or neuter all your animals. We could supply the demand for pets in this country for an entire year just from the homeless animals we currently have, without another puppy or kitten being born. And the next time you want another animal companion, visit your local shelter, with an open mind. There is a cat or dog waiting there who can be all you ever dreamed of in a pet, and more. Like some shelter animals, ours are not perfect; none of us humans are either. But all of these imperfect animals are capable of learning to love their special humans.
Except maybe my nemesis, that mean rabbit.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
Recent stories, opinions and photos