This holiday season, take a few minutes and do something anything! for dogs less fortunate than your own.
My friends and family members know that I have a standing offer: If they know anyone who is looking for a dog – any sort of dog – I will keep an eye out for the dog of their dreams at my local shelter. And if I find a particularly good candidate, I will even take the dog home and foster him for a few weeks. I do this so I can work with the dog a little, to make sure he knows a few basic behaviors to impress his new owners (and fit in well in his new home). This way, too, if they have questions about a training or behavior issue down the road, I’m familiar enough with the dog that I can offer the most appropriate advice for dealing with that dog.
I love doing this. First and foremost, because I get the satisfaction of getting one more dog out of a shelter – and prevent one more person from naively supporting a puppy mill or backyard breeder. I also relish hearing how much my friends or relatives are enjoying their new dogs. And I love helping one more dog get off to a good start in his forever home. It’s deeply satisfying to me.
But many of my friends express the same concern about the time I spend combing through the shelter kennels: “How can you spend that much time in the shelter? It’s too sad!”
It can be sad. I’ve had some really bad days in the shelter, where the sheer size of the pet overpopulation problem temporarily overwhelmed me, or some of the animals’ tragic circumstances – visited upon them through the negligence of irresponsible, ignorant, and/or uncaring humans – made me lose faith in mankind.
But then I look at the people who work at the shelter. Somehow, they manage to face horror every day and still do everything they can to make the animals in their care as comfortable as possible. From the director of the shelter, who after 20-plus years of shelter work can still cry over an “owner-surrendered” 7-year-old Labrador howling with a broken heart in the kennels, to the people who have hundreds of kennels and cages to clean every day but still manage a kind word and caress for every animal at their fingertips – the people who do this work full time are an inspiration to me. So I try not to be a burden, or make their jobs harder by exclaiming about every sad case that I see. I try to just do my little bit.
And my faith in humanity is restored a bit when I see other people doing what they can to help. The tottering elderly couple who buy a big bag of dog food on their fixed incomes every month, and come to the front counter of the shelter to ask if an employee can carry it from their car into the shelter. The breed rescue people who take heartworm-positive dogs for treatment (in our shelter, heartworm infected dogs are usually euthanized). The quiet lady who comes once a week and sits for hours in the cat room, petting and brushing cats and dispensing love. The brusque, sour-faced lady who comes every Tuesday and doesn’t leave until she has taken every single dog in the kennels outside to potty. The veterinarian who works at the shelter for one week each month, performing spay/neuter surgeries and treating sick animals, for no payment whatsoever. There is no limit to the number or variety of things that people can do to help save lives and make things just a little bit better for the unfortunate animals in a shelter. And it all really does help.