Sometimes I have to be realistic that not every animal that comes through our shelter will have a happy adoption ending. Sometimes things don’t end the way I want them to. That is just the realistic side of working with homeless animals. And it is also one of the hardest things to deal with.
In my 7 years working at an animal shelter I have seen dogs and cats be put down for both health and behavioral issues. And each time it tears me apart. I’ll never forget the first dog I had bonded with that we had to euthanize. Her health deteriorated quickly and we could see she was suffering. So when we made the decision to put her to sleep I sat with her as she crossed over, just so that she knew how loved she was. There have been others since her that still make me tear up thinking about them, even though it is years later.
It must be hard for those pets that have to end their lives without an owner. It has become my routine to be with them as they pass. Hold them. Love them. Let them know that their memory will live on. Because that’s what they deserve. And when it’s over I spread their ashes somewhere beautiful. Someplace where their soul can be free.
I never thought about having more than one dog. Toby was such a handful that I couldn’t even imagine it. At the time I lived in a studio and there was barely enough room for the two of us let alone another furry friend. And then Fifi came along…
I remember the first time I saw her. My coworker was carrying her over for her intake veterinary exam. She mentioned in passing that she was a sweet dog but so scared. Days went by and she never left the crate that she lived in. I felt sorry for her. And then one day she got brave. In fact, maybe a little too brave. I heard someone yell that there was a little dog running around. I ran to the area they were talking about. The minute she locked eyes on me she came running and leaped right into my arms. I knew at that moment I was in trouble.
She was put in a kennel that faced my office door. Periodically I would look out my window to see what she was doing. Inevitably she was always staring in my direction, like she was willing the door to open. I tried to deny the fact that I was falling in love with this sassy fluff ball but it really hit me the day someone decided they wanted her too. I immediately contacted my landlord and asked if I could have another dog. He told me no and I was beyond devastated. But after some convincing he changed his mind. So I brought Fifi home. Almost 4 years later I look at her every day and feel thankful that she decided she wanted to be my dog.
Okay so just to be clear the individual I’m talking about is a dog. And she annoys me in a really good way. A few months back we got in dogs from Houston as a way to help with Hurricane Harvey. Bella was one of those dogs. After some testing our veterinarian determined she was heartworm positive. That meant a long course of treatment and lots of exercise restriction. Soon after her diagnosis she moved into my office…that’s when the real fun began.
For the first week Bella didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. She was well behaved and proved to be crate trained. And then she got comfortable. Pretty soon she started eating everything. Books. Trash. Expensive Nikon cameras. A couch. I always dreaded coming in the morning to see what she had gotten into. But even through all of that, I loved her. She was the most human-like dog I had ever met. She seemed to listen to what I had to say and really absorbed it. She was smart and quirky and crazy and I loved every bit of her. It didn’t matter that she destroyed most of the things in my office because every morning I would walk in and she would bring a smile to my face. Today she joins her forever family and I have mixed feelings. I know that this is the best for her but it breaks my heart all the same. She has been a part of my life for months and I will feel a void when she isn’t there anymore.
When I started my job we had so many dogs we literally didn’t have enough adoption kennels for them. Dogs were in adoption kennels, boarding kennels, here, there and everywhere. But when our adoption rate went up and our population went down, we began thinking, “How can we help out other shelters?” And so our transfer program was born.
It started pretty local…we would help out those in neighboring counties. It was such an amazing feeling to help free up some kennel space for those that truly needed it. Not long after we started this program my coworker visited a shelter in Fresno. He mentioned that they were inundated with awesome dogs. And so they were added to our rotation as well. Before I knew it rescue coordinators from other shelters were contacting us and asking if we would be willing to pull dogs from them. It was such an amazing feeling! We got to help and in return we got to meet rockstar dogs andmade friends with other animal welfare organizations.
I feel so fortunate to be in the situation in which our population allows us to bring in transfer dogs and that those we are getting them from trust us with their care. Plus that look in their eyes when we first meet does not compare to anything else. It makes my heart full every single time. And most of all, I love sharing those happy adoption pictures with those who cared for them before us.
Recess. Your lunch. Vacations. We all savor those breaks from the normal day to day grind. We can’t be “on” all the time. Sometimes we just need time to be ourselves and relax. And that is exactly what our dogs got when playgroups were integrated into our shelter.
I didn’t really know what to expect when we started. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea. It seemed unsafe, and well, downright scary. How could someone control a group of dogs that were running around off leash? But it didn’t take long for me to see what it really was. Most of the dogs participating had spent years in a kennel without any contact with other dogs. Sometimes they didn’t get out to stretch their legs more than 3 times a week. But soon our dogs started playing and making friends and just being themselves. I saw dogs I have known for months change before my eyes.
And it wasn’t long before I became involved in playgroups also. Soon I realized what they could do not only for the dogs, but for the people in the yard. I started looking forward to work in the morning because I knew I would spend hours surrounded by my favorite things in the whole world…dogs. I laughed more. I saw dogs blossom from shy and scared, to confident and playful. Some dogs that we thought were dog aggressive ended up being the dogs that got along with everyone. But most of all I bonded more with these animals that didn’t have anyone to call their own. And let’s be honest we all need love. We all need to feel that connection with another living being. I am happy to be that for all the amazing animals that come through our shelter.
Most of all, I am so thankful to be able to give our dogs that break they need…to let them be totally themselves.
Do you know that feeling after a concert when your ears are ringing and you feel a little out of sorts? Well, some days are like that for me after work. I get in the car and absorb the silence for a few seconds before I start the engine. It is the small price to pay for working at an animal shelter.
I didn’t always want to work in animal welfare. In fact, I knew very little about it. From the time I was little I always wanted to be a vet. But when vet school seemed too daunting I felt lost…what was I going to do with my life after college? And then I got my job at the Humane Society. I instantly knew it was where I belonged.
The next 7 years have been a series of ups and downs. Tears. Frustration. Heartbreak. But also joy, accomplishment and incomparable love. Even though most days I feel frazzled and exhausted I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
This is collection of memories, experiences, feelings and anything else related to spending 40 hours a week working with animals that, through no fault of their own, have no home.