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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: June 24, 2021

Ups and Downs at the Shelter



By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



**********

I have been volunteering at a small private (no government funding) no-kill animal shelter at least twice a week for two and a half years. I (as expected) have cried private tears of sorrow and public tears of joy. (Well, at least MOST of the tears of sorrow were private".)

Every single adoption fills me with joy. The truth is sometimes I am a bit sad when an animal leaves, as I have become attached to them. Sometimes volunteers not scheduled to work go to the shelter before an adoption just to say goodbye to the animal. But of course the goal is always to give every four-footed one a soft landing and fresh start. Many are in and out quickly " the young, cute, small, unusual or popular breed ones. Others may be with us much longer. There is one dog and one cat who have been here since I started, two and a half years ago " long haulers are typically older, have medical or behavioral issues; or all three.

The long-haul cat has a chronic medical condition which requires careful treatment, and when he came in he was a biter, most likely because he felt terrible. His health is now stable on a strict diet, and the volunteers have turned him into a sweet guy. But given his age and condition, his going home day may never come. He's been granted private ownership of the biggest cat exercise room. The dog, a Rottweiler and a volunteer favorite, has four strikes against him. His age as a senior dog; his big size and breed; a chronic medical issue that requires costly ongoing treatment, and the fact he is dog aggressive. He loves people and chasing balls. But finding a person for him, with the resources to manage his disease, who has no other pets and is comfortable with a dog whose breed would prohibit him in many apartment complexes and campgrounds, is tough.

Here's a few high and low lights from just the past couple of months. As always, I have changed animal names to protect the privacy of those who surrender or adopt.

We have a 20 year old cat, "Molly" that was surrendered when her elderly owner had to go to a care facility. She totters around in the main work room, where she is given free rein whenever a volunteer is on site. When she arrived, her long hair was so matted she had to be shaved, so she now wears a cute little sweater one of the volunteers knitted to keep her warm. I'd love for someone to give her a hospice home for her remaining time, but that is a hard ask. Every single cat volunteer spoils her, because she deserves it, and everyone endeavors to make sure her stay is as comfortable and kind as we can make it.

Our collective saddest day at the shelter occurred last month when a cat was euthanized. The shelter no-kill policy means any animal accepted (for a surrender fee) will not be euthanized for space. The two circumstances where euthanization could occur is 1) if an animal is too dangerous for volunteers to handle safely or 2) if the animal has a medical condition that is so debilitating and/or painful that no possible measures would relieve suffering. This was the first euthanization since I started volunteering at the shelter.

The cat, who I will call "Smiley" was surrendered at 12 years of age (strike 1) because she was diabetic (strike 2.) She was also a bit prickly with people, probably both because she didn't feel well and because she needed insulin injections. The cat lovers among us figured out how to best settle her, and most of us learned how to give her the necessary twice a day insulin in a way that caused her a minimal level of discomfort. She was given a prime cat condo, with an upstairs featuring a morning sun puddle and view of a bird feeder and a lower level with good hidey-holes when she was feeling anti-social. Unsurprisingly, no one showed any interest in adopting her, but she slowly settled in and became content as we all respected her boundaries. Over a year later, she started losing her appetite, regardless of what food was offered; and her coat became dull and harsh to the touch. Because she wasn't eating she became dehydrated and couldn't get her insulin regularly. She was given fluids by the vet tech, but they failed to perk her up. She lost all interest in her window or human contact.

Smiley was moved to a vet hospital, where various treatments were tried over the course of ten days, but she continued to deteriorate. The volunteers got a message that unless she improved in the next couple of days, the only humane thing to do was to euthanize her. We know everything possible was done, and Smiley was kindly sent on to the rainbow bridge. All of us will serve as "her people" there, since she never got another home of her own. Overnight, a memorial to her with a figurine of an angel holding a cat, her picture and a card with a donation in her memory appeared in her empty condo. All of the cat volunteers are saddened, but unfortunately even the best efforts can't save them all.

One of my happiest adoptions occurred very recently. I'll call the dog "Axe." He was surrendered by a man who described him as a lab/chow cross. I seriously doubt there is any lab in him, although he clearly is not a purebred chow. Axe was solid black, powerfully built and had an aloof air. He accepted attention but did not seek it out. He didn't bark or pace in the kennel, but outdoors he was very prey-driven and walking him was a challenge. Every bird, every motion distracted him. He lunged after moving vehicles. He usually obeyed, but with reluctance. Axe and I had our differences at first but eventually we worked things out. He required a long walk, and if he got it he became an easier dog. Axe was also highly dog aggressive, so he had to go to a "no other pet" home, and the shelter also specified no children. Axe's "grandparents," the parents of the man who surrendered him, often came to visit him. They grieved his long stay at the shelter, and loved him; but they had a small elderly dog at home, and Axe would be a danger to it.

Last week, Axe got his "freedom ride" after 19 months. The adopter is an older man who lives alone, and his last dog was an elderly Cane Corso who passed away. If you can handle a Cane Corso you can handle Axe. The shelter required the adopter to come and work with Axe four times under the watchful eye of our best dog person before the adoption was finalized. Despite the fact Axe was challenging for me at first, I became fond of him. He was highly intelligent, and you had to pay attention to stay ahead of him. I was a bit wistful when I walked him for the last time the day before he went home. Godspeed Axe "you taught me some lessons, and for that I appreciate you. And bless you, adopter. None of us can save them all, but we can make a difference for a few.

I will be away from the shelter for a few weeks next month. I can keep up through the volunteer website, but I am going to miss my Wednesday dog mornings and my Sunday cat mornings. I know I will return to the empty kennels of friends who have had their lucky day, and there will be a couple of new animals to figure out. You know your volunteer job has become a part of your life when you get "fear of missing out," in being away.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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