Friendly Fire by Nathan & Jennifer Winograd

IMG_2766-238x300If you have never worked at an animal shelter, volunteered at an animal shelter, or been to an animal shelter, you may be quite shocked by Nathan and Jennifer Winograd’s book,Friendly Fire. Even if you have done any of these things, there is still much in this book that may anger you, amaze you, and ignite your passion for changing attitudes about domestic animals and their significance. We are told that cats and dogs are the animals we love, but anyone who reads this book knows better. We ignore them, neglect them, abandon them, harm them, starve them, and in some circumstances, we torment them. And far too often, we murder them, by the millions, each year.

The Shocking Truth about Large Advocacy Groups

One of the most disturbing truths revealed in the book is the role that large animal advocacy groups (PETA, ASPCA, HSUS) play in supporting some of the worst, most abusive and cruel animal shelter practices in existence. PETA is known to kill nearly all the animals they “rescue,” that total now in the thousands. Many fight the No Kill movement and have supported some of the worst shelters in the nation. This book will hopefully send the ethical donor researching their favorite charities.

The Winograds knock down all the standard arguments thrown against No Kill shelters, and they refute them all. Some of the central messages of the book are: 1)there is no excuse for killing, 2) the single best predicter of success in live release is the attitude of the Shelter Director, and 3)regressive shelters will often kill even when there are rescues that could save animals, potential fosters who could save animals, and a community that wants to save animals. The deep pockets of the some of the most well known animal charities often work against progressive changes that might save lives.

Why No Kill is a Challenge to the Status Quo

I admit to hearing and wondering about many false claims I heard about the No Kill movement, most of which were dispelled by attendance at the No Kill Conference held in the DFW area last March. But reading this book helped to increase my knowledge and concern about saving the adoptable animals and helping the No Kill message spread. While many shelters are doing better every year with live release increases, there are still times when animals get caught in a web of bureaucracy and lose precious possibilities towards finding a happy ending. In some shelters, there is such an investment in the status quo that any change is opposed in order to justify current and past practices.

If you want to impact animals in your community or elsewhere, check out what is happening in your own local shelter. And read Friendly Fire so you know the questions to ask and the tasks to undertake.

Old Nightmares

Bird-300x283When I was younger, I had ongoing repetitive dreams about rescue. It might be a mountain of babies, all suffocating and needy; I would take one off the top of the pile, quickly clean him up, and move on to the next baby, knowing I could never save them all and grieving for the ones on the bottom I would fail to reach. I would work so quickly just to get to as many as I could before they perished. Another manifestation of the dream was a pile of sick puppies, where I would try to reach each puppy and would have to work quickly so as to save as many as possible before they succumbed to whatever disaster was befalling them. Or infant animals buried alive, digging frantically to get them out before it was too late. These are dreams of overwhelm and like most dreams, have multiples reasons for existing in my psyche. I heard stories of my grandmother drowning kittens as a form of birth control when she lived on a farm and was always sensitive to vulnerable others. Of course animals were in grave jeopardy all around me and on some level, I knew it, even at a very tender age.

Images of Overwhelming Odds

The result of having these images in my head had been a desire to adopt unwanted children and homeless animals of other species. While a young mother, we had several rescue dogs and even a kitten foundling whose mother had not even cut the umbilical cord. He was abandoned in the harbor and brought home to me by my husband, requiring round the clock feeding and cleaning. So was an abused puppy, another surprise gift from my husband, another animal he discovered that needed rescue. These animals and images also led me eventually to volunteer at my local animal shelter, and then to foster animals who had run out of time and options.

I had my first fosters a year ago. They were year old athletic male cats, and our whole family fell in love with them. They were so soft, with little sadly declawed front paws, so loving and oh so playful and fun. My son and grandsons came over regularly to visit with them and were delighted with them each time. They stayed with us four months and left together, to a seemingly perfect home. I promised to take them back if ever they needed rehoming, no time limits. I remember when they left it was such a joy that they were placed together with what seemed like the perfect situation: in a loving young family with a dad who grew up with cats sleeping on his chest! But then followed the grief, the loss, and the reality that I could no longer protect them. I had to let them go. When they left, they seemed so confused and looked at me so questioningly as if to ask, “Why?” I knew I had to live with that, knowing they might feel betrayed by me. But I knew it was the best I could do for them. My hope was that once they found they had free run over an entire household, with children and adults both to love them, they would be content. And they were together.

Connecting with Vulnerability

This morning, after two of my three foster kittens were adopted at yesterdays Adoption Event, I am feeling bereft once again. Someone sent me a beautiful photo of my remaining baby (see above), and it shredded all my defenses. I held her close and comforted both of us as I walked her around the house with tears running down my face. She is a pistol, a real fighter. When her siblings were 1.1 pounds, she was only 0.8 pounds. She is so fierce of heart – she can scale my whole body in two seconds and leap out of a 4′ tall box in a nanosecond. But so far, she is not really a cuddler and despite her unique beauty, so far she remains alone. I can no longer protect her little brother – the cuddlebug of the litter, the one who hissed at me when he came and hid for two days even from his sisters.  As he was growing older, his gorgeous colors started appearing – he even had faint tabby stripes beneath his shiny black coat, and a precious little crooked white stripe down his nose that sort of fell off a bit at the end, leaving a pink little spot of moisture at the tip. And her little sister, the photogenic one, the one that always ran out to meet me, the one that was full of life but had a rough time after spaying and just lay in my arms — little Cubby is out of my arena of protection, too. I will no longer see them rolling in a ball playfully, putting their arms and legs all over one another, purring contentedly when they sleep. They are alone in the world now, in a world controlled by us humans. And they are vulnerable.

I think that is the source of my grief, that the world of humans is so callous that their needs will often be overlooked. Already at only three months of age, they have lost both their mother and their foster mother, have had numerous injections, a blood test, and surgery. They will never be allowed to have families or be with others of their own kind. They will be forever lost in an alien world that does not really fit for them and they will have to accommodate the needs of others.  As a vegan and an animal advocate, I know how that feels. And I know that however painful this is for me as a foster mum, I have to endure it, because there is another litter of four that need a foster, and I am to pick them up next week.

Facing Old Nightmares

Letting go is never easy. It triggers those old nightmares and forces me to face my own vulnerability and my inability to protect all those I love. It means facing the fact that these little lives are relatively fortunate, for they have not been pulled from their mum so others could steal her milk like so many gentle calves, nor sent off the end of a conveyor belt to their death as happens to nearly all rooster chicks. They will not be sent to slaughter in a few more weeks as happens to many beautiful birds raised as chicken flesh, or forced to lay alone on cold cement after birth, as happens to those beautiful little piglets whose mothers are confined in sow stalls. There are so many little ones I cannot help at all. Because the truth is, when one gets to know and really love an individual, it doesn’t matter to which species their were born, it is just love, and concern, and a desire to keep them safe and to let them know how precious they are and how much their mum loves them.

Meanwhile, there is work to do. I still need to socialize my last little foster from this litter, and hope and pray she finds a home worthy of her spirit, one who will understand her and love her and see her and not just meet their own needs through her. Like any doting mother, my eyes are clouded with the affection I have for her and hopes I have for her future happiness. While there is a tsunami of need and desperation, it seems far better to face that harsh reality and the inevitable inability to save everyone. I no longer have those old nightmares; I am far too busy with the work at hand.

Spare Change

jar-of-change-220x300For the past couple of years, my two grandsons have been collecting every dime and nickel they find in a glass jar. The jar, when filled, was to be given to help animals. Older grandson wanted to save the wolves, but we were unable to find an organization where we were assured this small amount of money would actually help. So in the end, the boys decided to donate their coins and a few dollars to a local rescue group that gets animals out of the euthanasia list and into homes and temporary rescue groups who foster these animals. This group attends adoption events, spends endless hours grooming the animals, and uses a good photographer to get a candid shot of the animal out of their cages and in a colorful, personality-laden photos that captures something special about each adoptable animal. We knew that this group was saving lives from a prior experience – one dog who had a bad case of mange was taken off the kill list by procuring pledges for financial assistance that would mean treatment – and life itself – to this particular animal. It worked, and that dog is now barely recognizable as the sad-eyed, mange-covered, depressed being she once was. She is now full of vitality, out of the shelter, and enjoying life with her permanent family.

Spare Change to Spare a Life

money-271x300The day youngest grandson took the money to donate, the local shelter was buzzing with potential adopters and many wonderful animals were waiting in cages and glassed in rooms to meet their fate.  A volunteer came out and told youngest grandson that he was going to receive the VIP treatment for his generous donation; at six, he already knew that those initials meant, and said to me, “I am going to be a Very Important Person!” Photos were taken, the money was handed over, and the animals were visited. Outside was a dog park, which delighted youngest grandson no end – a loving, gentle Beagle offered licks and paw-touches, a feisty Terrier was game for a romp around the perimeter, and a three month old puppy was demonstrating his ability with barking and chewing — all in all, a wonderful, memorable day.

When youngest grandson asked about the amount of money in the jar (recounted, just in case they would not accept the loose change), I told him it was just under $40, an amount that included two last-minute pledges of $5 from each of two supporters.  He was disappointed it had not been at least $100, and promptly had his mum find a very large jar so he could start saving again. This time he displayed a bit more aggression in his procurement techniques, immediately eyeing a small box of change within a drawer, and asking a few relatives to donate.  With this new empowerment, this new idea that money can translate into saving lives, there is no limit to what he will be able to achieve. It is both simultaneously wonderful and tragic that by just finding spare change, one can spare a life. Reader, can  you spare a dime?

 Note: This was written a few months ago. I now volunteer at the same shelter.

Fostering Felines

IMG_3780-300x211A month or so ago I took our local shelter’s class on becoming a foster for animals. The shelter often uses fosters to help save animals when the shelter gets overcrowded, or if the animals are too young for adoption, or too ill, or need socialization or other special time to prepare them for adoption. Our adoption manager decided I might do best with small dogs, since I have an elderly cat that was none too happy about the two male felines I fostered a year ago. At least, that was the plan.

Final Notice

One evening as my grandson was playing on the computer while I made dinner, a notice came across the Facebook page from the support group for our local shelter, asking if any registered fosters could take some kittens. The deadline to save these three kittens from euthanasia was 6 pm, and it was 6 pm when I read the notice. I commented that I was a registered foster, but was supposed to take dogs, not cats. One of the administrators for the shelter support group contacted the kennel manager, tagged the kittens, and I was thus committed to becoming their foster mum.

When I went to the shelter to pick up my three new babies, the kennel manager asked me if I wanted to take two puppies, too. I said I would, but the foster program manager nixed the idea (wisely), knowing my nature and not wanting me to be overwhelmed. The next day I saw a man taking the many puppies away in a large crate together, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt like Sophie’s Choice to decide between species. Puppies are usually in high demand, unlike kittens, who have a much rougher time finding homes. Since I had already committed to the kittens, kittens it would be.

Stinkin’ Cute Kitties

IMG_3777-300x221First thing I had to do was give each kitten a bath – they were really very dirty and their dishsoap bathwater, warm and sudsy, soon turned to mud. Each kitten had their own bath towel in which to dry off and they quickly became little balls of nice clean fluff. I set up little low boxes for litter and  found some very tiny trays for their food.  At first they required daily bathing, at least for their tails (we called this “tail dunking” and it seemed necessary the first week or so, to keep their little hind ends clean). One was a climber and considered me her tree. My grandson said she must think I was a pirate, because she would only perch upon my shoulder like a parrot might! She was soon named Bird, a tiny Calico and white little girl with a perpetually dirty face. She was the runt of the litter, and I had to love her for that alone. Her big sister was named Bear, because she was always on the go, always lumbering around in search of adventure. Then the final little guy was Mouse, a small black large-eared kitty with a crooked white stripe down his face, just missing his nose and leaving it pink. He was my cuddle bug, the one that always ran to me, found a tiny place to burrow, and purred. Initially, he was the one who slept alone and hissed at me. Within two days he gave up the tough guy act and his true loving colors emerged. Each one had totally won my heart and my protectiveness seemed to increase daily.

My grandson, too, fell in love with them.

“Why were they so dirty when they came to us?” he asked me.

“They were thrown away and did not have a mother cat to lick them clean.”

“How could anyone throw them away? They are so cute!”

As one of my friends said, they are so “stinkin’ cute” and I affirmed they were both! It was a lot of work (but still fun)  to daily clean their temporary nursery, to scrub the floors, clean the litter boxes, launder all their bedding and prepare their food. It is also a daily challenge to my sense of ethics to save these little carnivores. And even while loving them more each day, I need to prepare myself to let go, for in only two more weeks, they will be old enough for adoption. They just had their six weeks shots, vaccines, and blood tests and are healthy and happy babies. They run to me, climb on me, and cuddle with me at every opportunity. The snuggle with one another, too, and I so wish they could stay together throughout their lives.

Fostering Futures

One of the challenges in fostering is being there for these fragile little lives no matter what. Most fosters have lost a kitten or puppy on occasion, the little ones that just are not strong enough to survive their infancy. Some brave fosters have taken care of newborn litters with their hourly feeding schedules and their small chance of survival. Despite all the obstacles, it is something to consider, this opportunity to save young lives. To find out more about fostering, contact your local shelter or rescue. This is one way those of us who live within city limits can nonetheless set up our homes as temporary animal sanctuaries. And it is one way to foster a lifelong connection with other animals!

Podcast #36 – Gimme Shelter

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Stand by Me, by Rockapella

When the night is come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we see,                                                                                                                  No, I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid — just as long as you stand, stand by me.

When one of my friends talked to me about her work as a volunteer at our local animal shelter, I shuddered. I thought even visiting an animal shelter, believing it might be too sad to bear. But once you can actually take action to help animals, and can see how volunteers save lives of animals, the shelter becomes a place of joy despite the ongoing harsh realities. I attended our orientation and had to fight back the tears as we walked through the Cattery, with tiny kittens reaching out little paws in quiet supplication. But once I was working to help the animals, things changed considerably. I thought I would just do photography or off-site humane education; it was only four hours a month and I could probably weave that into my already busy schedule. That was how I talked myself into signing up. After all, supporting local shelters and sanctuaries is one of the commitments of our local animal rights group. I knew I needed to put my feelings aside and consider the feelings of the animals, so I dove right in. But what followed surprised me.

My first shift at the animal shelter was about three hours long and when it was done, I must admit I was exhausted. That was the only time I felt that drained, because in no time at all, I found I was getting stronger and getting energized from the work. I followed my friend around and learned a little bit about how to access the animals, how the shelter operated, what kind of tasks I could do that might that would be helpful to the animals, and how I could become a functioning part of that animal shelter.

The dogs at the shelter

Prepare to Lose Your Heart

One of the first things I learned at the animal shelter is how quickly one can give one’s heart and lose it totally to these animals. We had a young hound girl that was having difficulty recovering from her spaying procedure and, following my friend’s lead, I began going into her kennel and just holding her. She loved it, she appreciated it so much, and these animals are so expressive for the smallest little kindness. It is amazing that we give them so few. But I soon fell in love with her and started considering how I might take her home and make her a part of my own family.  That happens all the time; the only thing that saves me is that I could never pick just one!

I hope any of you listening will consider volunteering at your local shelter. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the shelter, it is still important to volunteer just to keep an eye on how things are going, how you might make life better, how you might help make a more efficient system to help more animals survive the process, and to increase the number of spays and neuters that are going on in your community so as to decrease the number of homeless animals.

While cleaning and other shelter tasks might not sound very energizing activities, I was surprised at how much I wanted to go back every day and see who I might help or who I might encourage. And because there is an endless need for tasks, and because the staff are so grateful to have the help, and we were made to feel so welcome within our local animal shelter, I found the shelter beckoning to me. It was difficult to stay away. I probably went more than I should this past summer due to the pressures of kitten and puppy season and an overwhelming number of cats, dogs and other animals in our shelter. I went more than I should have for my own mental health, but it is hard to stay away when you know in your going you might save a life.

If you are a vegan, it might be a more complex decision, because we know that some of the domesticated animals feed on other innocent animals so that makes our decision to help these animals a little more complicated. However,  for me it became an easier decision because I knew that I could just go in and get these animals out of their kennels and give comfort to some of these animals whether they survived the experience or not. At least that was how I originally talked myself into participating. Over time, though I have come to see working as a vegan in an animal shelter as a double opportunity to not only give comfort, help, support and advocacy to the animals in the shelter system, but also to bring awareness of and increase respect for other animals to those working within that system – the human animals.

Prepare to Change

IMG_1757-300x290Sometimes the decisions we make change us, and this was one of those decisions that definitely did. Just like the animals in labs, the animals at the slaughterhouse, the animals in entertainment: it is easier to look away than to recognize the needs and suffering of our fellow earthlings.But this opportunity was laid in my lap and I found I could not look away. There is not a single day I work at the shelter that I do not think of those other animals that I cannot see and still cannot help or give comfort to; I think all vegans go through that on a daily basis. The best we can do is try to educate others. We are reminded of that situation every time we drive down the street, look at billboards, turn on the television or radio, or just go about our daily lives. The callousness which meets other animals, the human domination of all other life forms, is so huge and so grief-inducing that one must develop ways of continuing on despite the grim statistics.  Is it always easy? Perhaps that is the wrong question to ask. Mahatma Gandhi has said:

A principle is a principle, and in no case can it be watered down because of our incapacity to live it in practice. We have to strive to achieve it, and the striving should be conscious, deliberate, and hard.

Cats in the shelter

Once those little babies beckon to you every day, it is hard to stay away from the shelter work.The truth is, we call these animals the lucky ones compared to others, but they are not that fortunate either. Some days we pick up dozens of strays, animals left to the elements without food, water or shelter, and may receive a couple of dozen others that are brought in by their guardians – abandoned, depressed, shocked and confused. Few find permanent homes; for cats, it is even more dismal than for dogs. These animals are the objects of human domination, hoarding, neglect, abuse, hunger, the weather, and many other forms of exploitation.

Prepare for Peace

In March, Nathan Winograd brought the No Kill formula to North Texas at a conference that proved to be worth driving a long distance in torrential rain. This conference was so inspirational that I would urge everyone who has any interest at all in attending. Mr. Winograd has written several books, is a vegan, and a shelter director who would not accept traditional ways of confining and killing animals. The core of his philosophy is that we need to find aggressive ways to rehome all the animals in our care. When killing is not an option, humans can become very creative. On and off site adoption events, community classes, reduced adoption fees, networking with rescues, building support groups within the community, building a fostering program and offering excellent customer service and public relations all lead to more and more adoptions. Without such support, the animals are at grave risk of losing everything they have, their very lives. We need to get them out of there!

We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Rolling Stones

If our animals survive the original intake and holding period and finally find themselves with a glimmer of hope on the Adoption floor, then they have to deal with the ever ticking clock and the unrealistic expectations of some of us humans. And I do understand these expectations. It is understandable that we don’t want our lives disrupted, our homes annihilated, or our yards dug up; however, the animals we take into our homes are animals that need to learn to adapt to our human lifestyles. It is not natural for them. And most adapt very well. I am always amazed at how compassionate and forgiving these animals are to us humans. I only wish we humans could show them the same kind of love we find from the canines and felines and all the other animals we find in our shelters.

Changing the Paradigm

For the animals in the kennels looking outward, they see a steady stream of humans looking in at them and then walking off. They see a lot of different staff pulling them out of the kennels for a blood test, or an immunization, or for spaying and neutering procedures. All of these things are not fun at all, so it is not surprising that they balk at being led away from their kennel. With the volunteers, they usually are eager to leave, knowing it may mean a kennel run, some fresh air, or biscuit or just a scratch on the head. They crave that attention – they want us to SEE them, they talk to us so eagerly, and they try to express themselves so earnestly and so completely. They try to connect with us. They want and need our help.If you decide to volunteer at your local shelter, I can assure you that you will be rewarded with pure, unadulterated gratitude. It is a very rewarding and very demanding job. One of the things I would recommend is something I am not particularly good at and that is setting limits so that  you don’t burnout. Over the summer I had more time so I ended up spending every available minute there trying to combat the stready stream of kittens, puppies and other animals that were finding their way to the shelter. It was probably not optimal for my own mental health. If you limit your time to what is palatable for you and your schedule, I think you will find it a wonderful experience, a way to give back to your community, and a way to do direct rescue work for fellow earthlings that is meaningful and valuable.

IMG_1402-300x271Our local shelter now has five soon to be six vegans working inside. so we are fast becoming a presence there. I would hope that as there are more vegans involved there would be more awareness of how our choices impact other equally significant animals. Our local shelter support group now gives out V-Dog vegan dog food in our event gift bags. We now have a non-vegan who is promoting vegan leads for the animals because of that awareness. And, we just had vegan cupcakes at our recent Volunteer Appreciation Day – and it was not just vegans that were eating them. By working through differences, we increase understanding between the diverse group of volunteers. The bond we share in trying to help animals is very strong. One only has to read some of our internal messages to see how our presence is having an impact.

One of the most surprising aspects of my volunteering is what I have learned about animal shelters in general. Did you know that many still use the cruel and barbaric gas chambers? That many kill nearly every animal they capture or claim? That you must be cautious about sending checks to so-called animal advocacy groups, because many promote the killing of domesticates and oppose No Kill and TNR (trap, neuter and release) – a program that saves thousands of animal lives. That by providing support to local shelters, the killings rates go down dramatically? That an excellent shelter director is probably the most life-saving entity for animals since so much is about our relationship and attitude towards other animals. That shelters have many liabilities and many demands such as classes for errant animal guardians, programs like microchipping, public education, public relations, and media communication to facilitate saving more animals. That many host low cost spay and neuter clincis and low cost immunization clinics to help more animals and their families within the community. A shelter director has to wear many hats, and it is only with community support that the animals may be helped more fully.

Creative Advocacy Saves Lives!

We have a wonderful woman who comes into our shelter and takes personality photos of our kitties, so that potential adopters can meet the personality behind that ball of fur – since many cats sleep to deal with the mind-numbing boredom they experience while being confined. These photos are placed on their kennels so people can see the potential behind that glass partition. We put awards on the dog kennels as Most Loyal or Most Playful, so the potential adopters can see who lives behind those pleading eyes.  We give them names and use them. We use rescue groups who come into the shelter and take some of our urgent animals out of the shelter and buy them more time. They also take donations to help defray medical costs and other expenses. We have transportation networkers who help us pick up the animals to get them out in time. We have legislative advocates who help  promote TNR and other good pro-animal legistlation. We have a really good fostering program that provides and encourage community involvement in rescuing our animals. We have two support groups that promote our animals through social media sites and they are both quite effective. We have a host of volunteers, and most shelters really need an army of volunteers to get all the necessary work and support for the animals in our care.

Shelter animals are considered the lucky ones, but anyone spending much time in a shelter knows otherwise. They are used, abused, neglected and tossed out like yesterday’s garbage. If these are the animals we supposedly love, we have a very disturbing view of what love means. We see them with injuries, ribs showing through, diseased and broken, beseeching us as innocent  children of any species would. And we fail them in epic ways. Only a small percentage with ever find any real sanctuary, belonging, or safety. Like all the other animals on the planet, they are at our mercy, and we have so very little of that for them. They are always just a shot away from death.

Just a Shot Away, Just a Kiss Away

If you can, please stand by them. Meet them. Advocate for them. Adopt them. Foster them. Change the world for them. Then, maybe someday, we can change the world for all the other animals, too.

Gimme Shelter, by Playing for Change

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away

I tell you love, sister, it’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
It’s just a kiss away
Kiss away, kiss away

Let’s give some love away, let’s give some love away!

No Kill Coalition on Facebook

Beat the Clock

clock-300x255As an animal shelter volunteer, I know what it is like to be up against a deadline, and in this case the term carries significant meaning. For many of the animals we serve, the clock is literally the line between being alive and being dead. Weekly we receive a list of urgent animals, those who have been overlooked for adoption or rescue and who are taking up kennel space that is sorely needed. They are on the euthanasia list for potential extinction.

Ending Euthanasia Lists

We are fortunate that our shelter is progressive and is decreasing the kill rate, but it is still a painful and unjust system that convicts the innocent because there is no room for them in the tiny enclosures they want so badly to leave. Most of the dogs get so very excited when you come with a leash, hoping that it means they will get some time in the kennel run, but it could also mean Taking the Final Walk to Oblivion. For those who are adopted, being set free from the shelter is almost too much to bear. I have photographed dogs who finally get to touch the grass after weeks in the shelter, who finally have their very own family, who get a car ride home, and who will soon learn what the term home really should mean. The anxiety in the receiving room bounces off the walls in squeaks and yowls. For cats, who have much less opportunity to be moved from their square little hostels, receiving usually means being put in yet another box for the ride home. Most of the animals suffer from trauma, neglect, anxiety and depression.

Life, Death, Tick, Tock

One is never far from the fateful, perennial ticking of the clock in a shelter. Come Monday, there will be another Urgent list. Our group of shelter support folks, those who try to raise money to get animals out of the shelter and into rescue, and who publicize the individual animals needing a home, maintains photos of those animals on the Urgent List. Our shelter offers all their adoption fees, which include full vetting, for half price to encourage homes for them. By the end of the week, we usually have at least half of the animals adopted or rescued, but it is that last day or two of struggle that is so heartbreaking. Anyone with a number of Facebook friends knows the frantic Animals on Death Row photos that start circulating, the pleas of desperation for someone to save their beloved animals. We see them not only in our localities, but across the nation and the world. If an animal is too fearful, too growly, too angry, or simply too common, they may lose all they have — life itself.

Time is running out for all of us, for the planet, too. For the animals in shelters, animals in forests, animals in abattoirs, animals in labs, the clock is ticking ever more ominously and urgently.

And the clock keeps ticking.

Please join in the efforts to value each animal’s life as precious – go vegan, support your local shelter, protest all animal use.

Saving Abraham

abe-205x300Since I began working inside our local animal services shelter system, the sad reality for domesticated animals has become far more personal to me. Many people tell me the exact same thing: “I couldn’t bear to work in the shelter; it would be too sad.”  Of course, the best way to make it more joyous is to volunteer and help get more animals adopted. Our local shelter only requires four hours per month commitment, and one may just work in the laundry or behind a desk if that is how you prefer to spend your time. I talked myself into signing up by choosing humane education and photography as potential duties; I had difficulty getting through the orientation and facility tour due to the emotional impact of seeing so many distressed, caged animals. But I persevered, and signed up anyway. After all, four hours per month is not too much to squeeze into a busy life, right?

Volunteers Save Lives

But lately our shelter has been overflowing with wonderful, beautiful, smart and engaging dogs, and I have been spending every single minute I possibly could spend at the shelter.  Volunteers on the adoption floor can be the difference between a disgruntled potential adopter who leaves, and a happy adopter with a new family member. It makes catching up on household duties, running a nonprofit, and maintaining several blogs seem suddenly less significant. When the adoption floor is not busy, there are always dogs that desperately need grooming so they might capture a heart, and large dogs that need to get out of their kennels for a brief time in the kennel runs so they will be better behaved when they meet with a potential adopter. Each visit with a dog or cat, whether inside or outside (dogs only), requires either spraying with a weak bleach solution or mopping the floor with the same, in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.  For cats, the chance of survival is even less than for the canines, but the live release rate is getting higher and higher with an army of volunteers leading the way towards innovative solutions, and with a shelter staff that is committed to the same.

While all the volunteers seem to care about all the animals, there are admittedly a few that break our hearts. One was a very smart and beautiful dog that kept getting overlooked for adoption. He was exhibiting signs of kennel stress, and would be a bit too eager to get outside, a bit too much to handle in the small Meet and Greet indoor rooms. Because of the Texas heat, it was often difficult to convince human visitors that the kennel runs might be the best place to meet with a large dog. All the volunteers knew that Abraham was running out of time. Despite his beautiful lean physique, his handsome face, gorgeous white and light tan coloring and his amazing intelligence, this big boy was suddenly on the Urgent List. He appeared to be a Shepherd or Lab mix but his large erect ears and noble face were unique only to him. He would beseech us with his eyes, and it seemed he knew his time was quickly running out.

 A Doomed Dog

We sent round photos of this beautiful guy on our Facebook pages, begged for rescues and fosters, and hoped for the best.  We have two groups, Friends and Partners of our shelter, that work tirelessly to get the word out about our at risk animals, and they went into overdrive to save Abe. Finally someone drove from afar to take Abraham home with her. He was well-behaved in the kennel run and his potential rescuer was enchanted. That is, until another dog came into the neighboring kennel run and Abraham wanted to play so badly, he began chewing through the chain link fence with a frenetic quality that is hard to describe. He wasn’t trying to get OUT – that side of the fence was totally ignored. He just wanted to make contact with someone of his own species. There was no aggression in his desperation, just dysfunctional behavior that frightened away his final prospect. Abraham seemed doomed. My heart sank and the lovely young woman declined to adopt him and instead adopted a more manageable dog. Bless her heart for adopting and opening up a kennel space, but our big boy was on the EU list (euthanasia) for the very next day if he wasn’t claimed by 2 pm.

Before I headed to the shelter on the final day, I contacted another member of our volunteer group who is also a member of our local animal rights group. I offered to pay his fees if someone else could house him til we could place him. It was an absolutely insane idea, since by partner in crime already has three dogs and I have no fenced yard and a home with a reigning elderly feline. Despite concerns, she decided to take the risk to get him out of there – sometimes love wins over wisdom.  But all the way to work I kept thinking it would be unfair to my pal or her three dogs and would probably end up costing her money in fees if he got out and ran rampant around the neighborhood. As I locked my car, I kept trying to decide what the ethical thing was for me to choose –putting my friend at risk or leaving Abraham to his fate. My heart was in my shoes as I lumbered towards the doors of the shelter, uncertain how I would make it through the day if I knew they were coming for Abraham at 2 pm. The reality for these animals was so stark, and all my coping mechanisms seemed to be failing.

As I reached the front door, a beautiful and athletic young woman who had been at the shelter the day before told me she was going to get Abraham – he was in Receiving, getting ready to leave the shelter, hopefully for the last time. (Some of our animals are returned, so there is no guarantee that even a good home means permanent safety.) She knew I was in love with this dog as she had spoken to me about him earlier in the week. I asked if I could take a photo of him leaving with her and she gave her consent. She later posted a photo of Abe in his new backyard, looking positively radiant.

Attitudes Save Lives

abe2-284x300What really saved Abraham was a group effort and a belief that animals are worth saving. Due to the work of Nathan Winograd and many others, attitudes about shelter animals are changing and are facilitating more and more shelter adoptions. If our community could just get a few more percentage points of people adopting from shelters rather than buying from breeders or pet stores, all our animals could be placed. (For cats, TNR would also need to be implemented.) Every person that cross posts on Facebook and on other social media helps to save lives. Every volunteer who works in the front or back of animal services helps save lives. And, while I rejoice when a beautiful loving spirit like Abraham is saved, I never forget about the billions of animals that are unseen and die as market commodities for food, clothing, or entertainment. Still there are now four vegans volunteering at the shelter, and another one that is just getting started, bringing our numbers up to five. Every venue is a perfect place to increase understanding about how all animals matter and every day is a new opportunity towards respecting and saving animal lives.

For Abraham, all that matters is he is now home and he is now loved. Happy life, big guy, happy life!

Behind the Doors

lock-300x200Following a two hour orientation earlier in the week, I began working in earnest at the local animal shelter. Most shelters are actually part of Animal Control and sadly, that is the focus of their mission – to control animals so they do not disrupt the lives of humans. This immediately puts other animals on the losing end of the equation. I found the orientation and tour of the facility to be quite emotional and was not certain I was up to the task of witnessing the reality these animals face on a daily or basis. I was also concerned about not wanting any energy drained from promotion of veganism and our local animal rights group, but I knew there were other vegans volunteering in the facility, and hoped I might help increase our voice from behind the doors.

Three Hours

Once I actually acclimated by shadowing a more experienced volunteer, I was surprised to find the need so overwhelming and immediate that there was no time for concern about my feelings at all. The facility in which I work is fairly new and modern, and cleanliness is paramount. The shelter is progressive and makes an aggressive attempt to recruit and utilize large numbers of volunteers, fosters, mobile adoptions and online advocacy to increase the save rate. And it is working. With the March No Kill Conference in Addison, more and more people in the area are beginning to understand the roots of our shelter problems and consider unique ways to diminish the negative impacts we humans have on other animals.There are also two groups who work to support the shelter animals through fostering, social media and other advocacy.

After only three hours of the poop patrol, wrestling with large dogs, listening to barks and squeals, and witnessing humans abandoning animals in the Meet and Greet rooms, I was worn out for the day. The dozens of Owner Release animals were heartbreaking, animals who are not kept as long since they know no one is searching for them. They enter confused, distraught, and in grief and have to adjust to confinement and isolation. As I entered a group of kennels, some of the young dogs would jump waist-high just to get a peek at me over the solid bottom barrier of their kennel. Others, those tall enough, would place a paw longingly towards me at the midsection of their kennel door, where chain link and vision begin. The desire to gather up every single animal and help them escape was strong, but there was always a pup lying in their own waste that needed immediate attention or a kennel that needed to be sprayed and cleaned.

Saving Other Children

It was obvious after three hours that these animals are like toddlers locked in closets. They want out. They want to run, and sniff the grass, and claw the earth. They want to play with others of their species and lick and snuggle with their own. They want reprieve from the boredom and loneliness of their plight. Just like human toddlers, they need attention, love and discipline. They want to matter to someone, and they do.

It was amazing to me that after wrangling a large dog out to the small gravel run for a few minutes respite, and then encouraging him to go back into his kennel after it was cleaned, nearly every single dog was cooperative. Why don’t they bite us and try to tear us apart for what we are doing to them? We have created a prison for the innocent, a death sentence for the guiltless. Most of the rejected dogs have done nothing more than being dogs, or cats for being cats and having claws and curiosity and investigating their world.

Much of what I learned harkened me back to my days working with kids in foster care and the juvenile justice system. Most of us therapists were more frustrated with the parents than the kids (though not always). The kids at least were still, for the most part, educable. Likewise, it would seem that the problematic entities here were the irresponsible adults who did not understand how to work with animals, how important early training is, or what the animal in question might need. With children, some adults are just not equipped to become parents and some of our agencies are not as efficient as we would like in helping to support them. The same dynamics are at work in many shelters. Our shelter just received a grant that will allow them to offer some pre-adoption training for community members so they might reduce the return rate. Of course, some animals lose their owners to death or disease, or financial downturn, or foreclosure and those social ills are a bit out of our control altogether, but where we might decrease returns, we should.

What Does It Mean: “I Love Animals?”

Many of us profess to loving animals, yet what we really mean is we enjoy them. We eat them, we wear them, we scrub out homes with their remains. We casually adopt them and callously return them when it is inconvenient to continue on. We like to gawk at them behind glass at aquariums and zoos. We make ourselves feel more significant by making fun of them and using them as insults to one another. We sit in chairs made of their skins and hunt them down for sport and because we can. We really cannot articulate our complex relationship with other animals and usually reduce it to something along these lines: “I love animals.” But do we, really? Do we even see them, or respond to their needs?

I am getting trained next to work in the Cattery and look forward to making life a tiny bit more hopeful for more animals. Even cleaning a dirty litter box, or taking a dog out to the run can become important to the quality of life and chance for a future for these young beings. It was wonderful to meet so many hardworking, dedicated individuals who walk through the muck and spend so many hours helping to get these young animals out of their prison and confinement. It takes no time at all to know them by name and personality, to rejoice when they are adopted, or to grieve when they are rejected. And because of the numbers, they keep coming, coming, coming, so there is no time to pause to reflect for long; there is work to be done.

And meanwhile, we can keep up the positive work of creative vegan education. The day before I worked in the shelter, I spent the day at a corporate health fair, promoting veganism and trying to increase understanding and respect for other animals. I was not certain that working in a shelter would be feasible for someone like me, but I found that it enhanced my dedication to take up the cause for all animal rights. At times, the companion animals that are so well accepted by most of us as individuals become a way into discussing how the invisible animals, the pigs and cows and birds, are also individuals with unique personalities, who dream and worry and want to live. We must never forget the animals behind the doors, whether inside of shelters, or factory farms, or abattoirs. The best way I know to help is to gain access and report on their stories, to remind us all that we need to consider their lives as integral as our own to the world. And to do some of the dirty work that is involved, as well.

Note: Our local shelter only requires a four hour per month commitment. They rely on the work of volunteers to meet the animals’ needs. Please check with your local shelter to see if you might help become a voice for the animals in your locale.