Most of the animal shelters in my area are pretty fantastic. Not only are many of them considered "no-kill," a standard that's nearly impossible for a shelter to meet - particularly during the dreaded "kitten season" - they have also done some amazing, above-and-beyond-type things for animals in need. I worked in one of said shelters for close to a year, and it was both the most rewarding and most emotionally taxing job I have ever had. As a shelter employee, you are consistently let down by the actions and behaviors of humans...and then brought back up again when people show you how generous and giving they can be. Hope springs up in your chest when an especially wonderful human being takes on the responsibility of adopting a blind senior dog...and then it sinks back down when a dog is abandoned on the road or a kitten is left outside the building doors.
What I'm saying is: It is damn tough to work in animal rescue. Shelter employees are the closest things we have to saints around here, and they are never appreciated enough for what they do. For the sweat that pours down their face while they clean up messy outdoor kennels in sweltering, 100 degree heat. For the pain they feel when a sick kitten must be euthanized (because it is never only the animal's pain - those employees feel it, too). For the frustration they go through when a confused puppy is returned to the shelter because he "chews too much" or is too high-energy - a fairly typical occurrence in animal rescue, but I doubt it ever gets easy to hear.
Let me share with you some examples of the selflessness and kindheartedness of our shelters:
(Photo by Love and Luck Photography)
This cat, known now as Chilly Willy, was left outside the PAWS Humane Society doors one night, when the temperatures were bitterly cold. The shelter employee opening the next morning, unfortunately not too surprised to see him there, set him up in a warm, cozy kennel and gave him some much-needed food. Chilly Willy is now a content and happy 12-month-old kitten who is still looking for his forever home. (He is very sociable and loves children; if you're interested in adopting him, you can visit the PAWS website.)
(Photo from HSNI website)
This 2-year-old pitbull terrier was named Serenity by shelter staff, and she was left behind on a vacant property along with three other dogs. The temperatures were below freezing, and the dogs were all left outside. When a good samaritan heard of this, she went to the property to bring the dogs to the Humane Society of North Iowa; however, Serenity was the only dog left there and alive. When she arrived at the Humane Society, she was badly dehydrated and covered in dried blood. The wonderful on-staff veterinarian determined that Serenity had been shot near her shoulder and neck. She was given plenty of fluids and antibiotics and now is almost completely healed and able to walk. The staff loves Serenity and often keeps her up front to socialize with them and customers. They are now taking applications for Serenity - if you'd like to be considered, visit the HSNI website for more information.
This fun-loving girl is Goldie (photos by HSNI). Goldie is the golden retriever mix known around the world...for her awful story. She was left in an outdoor kennel outside of an apartment where several other dogs lived. For three weeks, she sat alone in the kennel with no food and little water, eventually becoming so hungry and afraid that she chewed off her own tail. After hearing about Goldie, the Humane Society of North Iowa offered to take her in - she was only 46 pounds when she arrived at the shelter, and she had to have her tail amputated right away. She was skinny and traumatized. Once Goldie's story came out, it spread - to New York news stories and even as far as Australia. Applications and phone calls poured in. Most of them needed to be weeded out, as Goldie does not get along and cannot live with other dogs or cats. Due to her traumatic past and the anxiety she showed at the shelter, other applications were weeded out because the owners simply would not have the time to give Goldie the love and care she needs. The handful of potential adopters left came to visit Goldie...only to change their mind. Goldie is somewhere between 8 and 10 years old (a "senior" dog), and they expected a calm, couch-potato of a pet. She is not this - she is energetic (almost puppy-like in her behavior, in fact) and requires exercise and play.
It has been a year and two months. People have stopped calling about Goldie. People no longer apply for her. Some people even go so far as to throw insults at the shelter that took her in, saying that it is their fault that Goldie sits behind bars. (Since I worked there and arrived there shortly after Goldie did, I have to say: this is simply not true. Goldie is a very special dog who NEEDS a very special owner. That person has not come yet. The shelter wants Goldie to be adopted, just as the public does, but it cannot be the wrong home, not for this girl.) When I first arrived at the shelter, Goldie was thriving - she was all about the food! the treats! the people! the tennis balls! the WATER OMG THE WATER! She still loves all those things and is in good health, but after a year, she's getting stressed. Her hair sometimes falls out in clumps because of it. She still chomps at water and goes nuts over anything that bounces - she is still a firecracker - and the staff has done an amazing job with her. But it's not the same as having a home. Goldie really just needs the right person to come and find her. If you think you might be that person, PLEASE visit the HSNI website for more information.
This is what Xander looked like when he was brought in to the Humane Society of North Iowa (photos by HSNI). The now-7-month-old pit bull puppy was found wandering an alley - he was severely emaciated and dehydrated. The staff wasn't entirely sure if he would make it. But it appears Xander is very strong-willed, because two months later, he has come leaps and bounds. He has gained a lot of weight (probably due to anti-nausea medication and special canned food), though he still does not weigh what he should. Xander is friendly, sweet, and absolutely GORGEOUS. His straight-up right ear and pretty eyes make him pretty darn hard to resist.
I visited the shelter this past Friday, and Xander has now been integrated into the main shelter with the other dogs, rather than being kept in the vet room. This is huge for him, but he still needs to gain some more weight before he is officially placed up for adoption. If you are interested or want some more information on Xander, you can call the HSNI.
And finally, here's a couple of success stories to end things on a positive note:
(Photo by HSNI) A tote full of 7 boxer-mix puppies was found in December on a downtown street. The tote had clumsily-poked holes in the lid and a sign reading "Free Puppies." A man found the tote and its shivering contents and brought it in to the Humane Society of North Iowa. The temperatures that week were hovering near zero, and the puppies would have frozen fairly quickly had they not been picked up. Thankfully, they all seemed to be in good health...and after the story spread, all the puppies were adopted right away. They now live in their warm, comfortable forever homes!
And one more wonderful success story, no photo included: An extremely timid boxer named Shaak Ti was brought in (along with her furry shih-tzu sister) by her sobbing owner, who had to release the dogs to the Humane Society. The shih tzu adjusted to shelter life fairly quickly, and after a bath and a haircut, she was good to go! But Shaak Ti was absolutely terrified; she would huddle and cower in a corner, shivering and shaking. The staff kept her in a back room since she seemed so afraid of everything - we were worried that she would never come around and warm up to people. But one employee made it her goal to socialize Shaak Ti - she would bring Shaak Ti up to the front to lay on a blanket; she would slink on her stomach up to the front desk and hide under it. But soon (after some car rides and maybe some hamburgers), the boxer warmed up to the employee...and soon everyone else! Thanks to the staff member who took Shaak Ti under her wing, she was adopted by a couple whom she took very quickly to. This was a great example of how shelter employees can go above and beyond for the animals who need them.
(I know I put a lot of emphasis on the HSNI, but, to be fair, they are by far the largest shelter in our area...and I used to work there, so I'm a bit biased :) )
All this being said: Promote shelters as much as you can. If you're looking for a pet, hit up your local shelters first. They do amazing work and, let's face it, aren't paid nearly enough for what they do. I am amazed at how many people, when I wear an HSNI shirt, say, Oh, I had no idea this town had an animal shelter! Spread the word of the good that shelter employees do! :)
Thanks so much for reading <3