Monday, March 25, 2013

“Not all dogs go to heaven. Some just go in the ground.”

            The devastating aspect of working in the shelter is the death.  My favorite quote, I think, concerning animals dying is from a show called Animal Practice.  It debuted on NBC this past fall and didn’t do very well in the ratings.  To be honest, it wasn’t that great of a show.  But there was one line that has stuck with me and that resonates in a shelter environment: “Not all dogs go to heaven.  Some just go in the ground.” 

            Many people when they come to a shelter assume that the animals there will be safe; that they will make it out alive.  Many when they surrender their own pets to us, for what every reason, when we tell them there is a possibility of euthanasia and we won’t notify him/her if that is the case, shrug their shoulders and say, “My dog will be fine.” It’s as if these people are saying not only that they are in denial that their animal could be put down, but that if they are, its not the worst thing that could happen to them because they are either just an animal or their spirits will live on.  Yet in a shelter, death feels absolutely final.  At least to those of us who see it.  The animals who no one loved or cared about merely go in the ground.  No one has their memory to live on in their hearts.  Death, for them, is the end.  Peoples’ lack of care about their decisions that determine the outcome for so many animals, to me, is unbearable.  They don’t realize that their choices can result in another creature’s death.  But people don’t think about it that way because they don’t see that for the animal, that means being buried in a landfill.

            The story that spurred on my recollection of this quote, however, was not the cause of humane neglect.  I have many stories like that this week, but instead this week I choice to think about Patience.  Patience was an adorable black cat with the biggest cheeks and greenest eyes one could image.  She was without a doubt a lover.  I impounded her and did her lost report.  When every an animal comes to us we have to take their picture, scan them for a microchip, and do a thorough description of them.  This method allows owners to try and reclaim their animals.  For cats, it is rare that someone comes looking for them.  So they wait until their stray period is up.  After the holding period, if they are friendly enough they go up for adoption to wait for the next person who will take them home and be stupid enough to let them outside. 

            Patience was more or less just another one of these cats.  She was gregarious, outgoing, and full of sweet kindness.  She hung around for the five-day wait period.  Our vet examined her.  She was spayed.  She went up for adoption.  And on the first day she was sitting in her kennel to be adopted out, I went to grab her to take another more faltering picture of her for our website.  When I went to grab her, Patience was unresponsive.  She didn’t move as I opened the kennel door.  She didn’t turn her head as I snapped my fingers behind her head.  I took her to the room concerned, rapidly getting distraught.  Carrying her I felt her limp body sink into mine.  I put her on the bench in the room, banged on the door, ran my fingers through her fur, shouted at her.  Nothing.  I called to my coworker to take a look.  She was convinced it was “just her personality.”  Idiot.  I called to another one of my coworkers.  After seeing her, he rushed back to vet services to see what they thought.  Upon entering the room a second time, this time I smelt it.  Death was coming.  If anything is dying one will only have to smell it to know it is true.  The vet scooped her up in his arms and carried her back the exam room, surely knowing what I did.  For two days vet staff tried to treat her.  They gave her fluids, forced feed her, and put her under a heat lamp.  Not a thing worked.  Determining that it must have been a stroke, on the second night they put her down. 

            Patience crushed my heart because for her, death was the end.  People tend to ignore this part of death.  Especially when we consider our own.  For over three fourths of the world there is an after life.  Whether that’s heaven, reincarnation, or hell there is something.  There are definitely mixed opinions on where the animals go when they die.  Lots of people believe that animals don’t have souls; which I think makes their deaths all that much more shattering.  But some people believe life goes on.  And maybe it does.  But for Patience she is no longer sitting in the shelter.  She is no longer waiting, hoping for someone to take her home.  I don’t know if she went to heaven.  But I do know she went in the ground. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Rules

           This blog is to chronicle my everyday work at a local humane society.  I am not the director of operations or the manager or the executive director. I am just a front-end clerk.  The ordinary person who adopts out animals to hundreds of people, vaccinates and impounds animals, reclaims lost pets to their owners (or otherwise known as RTOs) and help people make owner request for euthanasia.  I don’t work at a “no kill shelter.”  If you talk to anyone who has worked at a humane society there are two types: open admissions and closed admissions.  Closed admissions are the happy places that you hear about on the news that never kill any animals.  There is a reason why they have this privilege.  They are closed admissions; meaning they can determine what animals enter in to their facility.  They rarely have contracts with municipalities to intake animals despite their capacity.  They get their animals from transfers.  When they have room in their shelter, they send out a request to open admission shelters to take some of their animals.  But if they are filled, the public cannot bring them strays and they can deny surrenders.  This is where open admission shelters come into play.  They accept every animal that walks through their doors.  Despite the animals’ mental or physical health, we take them.  This makes it almost impossible for us to save all the lives that walk into our shelter. 

            According to my specific state’s law there are only certain conditions under which we can release various animals.  Probably one of the most crucial is that we cannot release an animal unless it has been fixed.  For animals that do not like being handled by people, this spells the end of their lives.  The greatest example of this is that of feral cats.  While many groups have tried to start trap-and-release programs, in which the animals are fixed and then released as barn cats, unless if the funding is there, for most shelters these types of programs are not possible.  For thousands of feral cats, unfortunately, this means they must be put down.   

            Dogs have slightly better odds if they suffer from behavioral issues.  There are very few dogs that have lacked so much people interaction that they are considered “feral”.  However, dogs have their problems too.  Generally from people being really stupid to them throughout their lives.  If a dog is food aggressive, has barrier issues, is possessive over his toys, or is sensitive to touch, these are all conditions under which the dog’s life could be placed in the balance.  Fortunately for these dogs there are closed admission shelters and rescues that have more time and resources to work with them.  These behaviors often can be trained out of dogs.  If a dog is lucky enough, he will come into an open admissions shelter at the right time when a transfer to another shelter is possible.  Or even better an open admissions shelter that has the resources to train the undesirable behavior out of him.

            Still, there are two Golden Rules to being a dog that if broken will end up getting one lead into the dark room.  The first is a dog cannot bite a person unprovoked and break skin.  To do so, surely means death.  The second, is one has to get along with other dogs.  If a dog has a history of attacking other dogs, its time will surely be limited. 

            These are the conditions under which I work.  On most days I find it incredibly difficult, heart breaking, and rewarding.  It always amazes me the love in which an animal can offer people after repeatedly being abused by people.  Humane societies often say that they offer second chances to animals.  But I find, in most cases, it is the animals that are offering us the second, third, forth, and fifth chance.  On any given day I will always say it is people who make my job awful, never the animals.  People destroy hope.  But they can also give it.  And that’s where my job steps in.