When I first started working at the Oakland Pet Adoption Center, I knew it wouldn't take long before one stole my heart. It was an obvious realization; I grew up with, loved, and treated animals as members of my own family. My dad found a stray cocker spaniel roaming our neighborhood, brought him home, and he became my Shadow until the day he died. I was warned when I first got hired that working around shelter animals was ‘hard,’ but I really had no idea what I was getting into.
Day after day, I watched homeless animals come into the shelter, some being given up by their owners, some never having one. Some of these animals were healthy, and went on to be adopted into good, loving homes. Some were not. There were many times I had to take a moment to collect myself, my eyes welling with tears when hearing their stories and all the suffering they had been through.
I wanted to take them all home; I knew that wasn’t logical. I found myself propelling my anger and sadness towards these animals’ disposition into every single effort I could. It quickly became clear to me that not every animal would be saved. However, every animal that I could help save would only fuel my motivation to work that much harder next time.
A couple months into my employment at OPAC, a litter of stray Labrador Retriever mix puppies came into the shelter. They had been found roaming Pontiac, lost without a mother and very susceptible to diseases. When I saw one puppy’s face in particular, ‘the one with the big floppy ears’ (as my husband remembers me describing her), I knew she was the one for our family. That was last June, and now, as we near her 1st birthday, I try to imagine my life without her and I can’t. She definitely stirred things up in our household; she makes quite the odd couple with her 7-pound sister. They took some warming up to, but they get along great and play together all the time. She's goofy (her favorite pastime is eating my socks-then throwing them up), energetic (a 3-mile run is a warm-up to her), an all-around big dopester. But our family would be incomplete without her.
I have been an insider and outsider in the animal shelter environment and notice that it’s very easy to make wrongful assumptions and judge the way a shelter operates. Before I started at OPAC, I didn’t understand the actual definition of no-kill, or even what save rate percentages really represent. It’s very easy to get caught up in rumors and hearsay, but that is not helping any more animals find homes. In honor of Rylee’s birthday, I’m asking everyone to take a second and really evaluate their approach towards animal welfare. Reach out to a shelter or rescue and see how you can help. Sweat equity is sometimes more valuable than monetary donations for the shelter communities. Any way you can help is always appreciated. Sometimes you can’t have a forever pet, then maybe you can foster. If you are unable to foster, come up and spend time with all the animals at your local shelter. I often hear volunteers say ‘I didn’t want to start because I can’t do enough’ or ‘I only have a little to give (be it time, money, etc)’. Every bit counts. We can’t save them all, but if everyone tries to, we can save more.
Do you have a shelter, rescue, or foster pet? I'd love to hear your happy tails!