Who Are We to Judge?

When dealing with homeless animals in any capacity – whether it be as a shelter worker, volunteer, or advocate – it’s easy to become jaded in the way you view the world. Often times when people ask me what it’s like to work at a shelter, my response is, “It makes you lose your faith in humanity,” because of how many awful stories we see first hand of people tossing their pets aside as if they were a piece of used furniture.

It’s so easy for us to judge anyone who makes the decision to not keep their animal.  The judgements start flowing quicker and easier as more and more animals get dropped off with each passing day – an all too familiar site at an animal shelter.  We think if people just cared more or put more time into it or thought harder about the consequences then they wouldn’t be giving up the animal and we’d have one less homeless animal to find a new family for, often times meaning one more open cage and one less euthanasia decision.  How dare they, we say. How could they.

But the truth of the matter is: we don’t know them, we don’t know their situation, and we don’t always know their reasons for what they’re doing.  It is rare that we talk to someone for more than just minutes or get more than one page worth of information about their situation when they give up a dog, and how is it possible that they can convey everything about why they’re giving up their pet – especially if they’re embarrassed or being reprimanded for it?

I’ve found it so incredibly hard to stop the judgements. It becomes so natural when all you see is a face behind bars after their owners have left them.  But every once in a while something happens that reminds me I don’t know everything, and often times what I’m assuming is entirely wrong (which is the case for so many things in animal rescue, not just owner give ups).

This pretty girl was given up to the shelter two years after she was adopted. She is ten years old and, after losing her kitty best friend, started peeing in the house.  Even with mid-day breaks, she wouldn’t hold it.  The vet said that she was in perfect health.  It was separation anxiety, and it was bad.

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How dare her owners give her up, right? You would never part with your dog over peeing, would you? Well guess what, you are not them. You do not know what resources they have available to them to help a problem like serious separation anxiety. They had gone from an owned home to a rented apartment, so maybe their finances were tight.  Rehabilitation, whether through a trainer or through medicine, is expensive. And it takes lots of time. And yes, if you own a dog you need to be aware of these possible responsibilities – but we have to remember that what one person is capable of putting into their dog is not the exact same as the next person or the one after that.

This dog’s owner was bawling when she brought her into the shelter. I suspect that they felt like they had tried everything they were capable of – which, a reminder, means in their own capacity, not what would be capable with endless resources.  The chatter around the shelter for the next few days was, “Can you believe those people who dropped off the ten year old?” and my response was, “Well, yes. I can believe it. It sounded like a really awful situation with no good outcome. I am sure they did not want to bring her here, but felt like they were left with no choice.”

For those of you who are sitting here shaking your head and thinking, “But there were other choices!” I ask you this: how far do you expect people to go? Do you believe they should spend all their life savings? Do you think they should quit their job to be home with the dog more? Do you think they should keep taking the dog to the vet until they discover something that might be wrong? Perhaps you would do that (or, more realistically, think at this very moment without being in the actual situation that it’s what you would do). It’s so easy to point fingers. So, so easy. But we have to remember, like I feel like I’ve written a million times in this post already, we are not them.

It’s not black and white. Nothing is black and white when dealing with animals.  Our friends over at Love and a Six-Foot Leash wrote a fabulous post about how sometimes it benefits everyone for a dog to be re-homed when one of their fosters found herself needing new digs, and we had the same discussion at a Your Dog’s Friend seminar about dog bites this past weekend.  We often forget that the dog’s well-being is at stake, too.

I’m the first to admit that keeping the negative judgements to a minimum is tough to do. Really tough. And there are a lot of really awful people out there among those who have good intentions. But the more I work to think about things from a different perspective, the more helpful I find myself being. Instead of wasting energy complaining about that ten year old dog’s owners, I’m spreading how great of a dog she is.  Instead of rolling my eyes at the next person who tells me they need to give up their dog, I’ll try to hear them out and gain some useful insight for potential adopters.

It’s tough because if less people decided to re-home their dogs, the rescue world would have more resources to put towards the endless amount of stray animals – but it’s the way things are and will probably be for a long time.  It’s time to accept that and move on. Maybe we can save a little bit of that energy we use to judge and spend it on providing more easily-accessible, affordable resources to folks who feel like they need to give up their dogs.  It’s not going to solve everything, but it’s a start.

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Lexi is ten years old, loves people and is dog-selective. If you’re interested in giving this elderbull a chance to live out her years in a home, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


G-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s

Cue Fergie’s song Glamorous for these photos taken by one of our shelter’s volunteer dog walker and photographers, Virgil Ocampo. We set up shop in the shelter Sunday night with the full shabang – backdrop, lights, things-whose-functions-I-don’t-know – and captured these fabulous shots with the help of many people, sausages and squeaky toys. This was the first of many photo shoots with Virgil (thank you thank you thank you), and we are absolutely LOVING spreading around these glamour shots!

More photos to come in the next few months, I’m sure – but for now, enjoy!

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15 Seconds of Fame with “Pit Bull” Dogs

I’ve been on the news a number of times of times at this point in my career, and I’m finally getting comfortable with it. Usually it’s just bringing an adoptable dog or cat to the station for a quick 45 second clip. Yesterday, however, our shelter got the opportunity to do a much longer, more involved program with a local station’s morning news reporter. We covered a few topics including our upcoming gala, adopting senior pets, and “pit bull” dogs. Being that I’ve been on camera plenty of times and I’m the resident pittie lover, I stepped up to talk with Holly about “pit bull” dogs.

It’s funny how you can basically eat, sleep, and breathe a topic, and still not know exactly what to say when put on the spot. You’ll see in the video that the anchor came on full force with pit bull myths – yikes – so I went heavily in the direction of lumping “pit bull” dogs in with all the other just dogs.  Shooting live always ends up being the type of situation where you don’t really know quite what you’re saying until after it’s over, and when you look back you probably would have said a whole bunch of stuff differently – but you can only prepare yourself so much.  I think today turned out well, even if I – as always – wish I could have a do-over.  At the very least Thelma, Louise and Angel were extremely well behaved camera stars! Maybe they will even get some adoption interest from their time in the spotlight (hint hint: that means you, reader who is looking for an awesome dog to add to their family!).

Holly Morris, the reporter, is an amazing supporter of our shelter, and she loved each dog we brought out. We’re so lucky to have media folks on our side, especially with the “pit bull” dogs issue.

See the video on Fox5’s website!


True Heroes

Just like comments about giving up a foster dog, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, “I don’t know how you do it” about working in a shelter, I’d be able to buy a Kong for every homeless dog in Maryland. It’s true: working in a shelter is very, very difficult.  But at the end of the day it’s our job and it’s our paycheck. We go home night after night thinking about the homeless animals we care for, only to get back up and do it the next day. Because we love it, but also because it’s our job.

The people who are really something remarkable are the ones who put their entire heart and soul into helping animals on a volunteer basis. I am the minority as a paid shelter employee – most people out there fighting the good fight to save animals not only don’t get a paycheck for it, but they invest much of their own money.  There have been days so tough that, if this wasn’t my career, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have walked away and never looked back. I can’t believe there are people who are in shelters walking dogs every single day, or people running rescues outside of their 9 to 5 jobs, or people who do transports every weekend not knowing where the animal will end up – and they don’t walk away. They stick it out through the most emotionally taxing times, because they know the animals need them no matter what. That is amazing to me.

I am blown away when I talk to the people who do this as essentially their second job. I know we don’t do it for the money, even those who get paid – but hearing how much passion and drive are in some of these volunteers is inspiring.  They fall in love with the animals they work with just as much – if not more – than others do.

Last week a poem circulated that a volunteer from a local shelter wrote. I’m really not one for words, especially poems, but when I read this the lines jumped off the screen and straight into my heart. This poem really showed me how much these volunteers take on when they come into a shelter and put their love on the line for these homeless animals.  This volunteer is so attached to this dog, almost like it’s his own.

The air is crisp, my paws sense the cold concrete floor.
I’m encaged in metal that lacks an inviting decor.
Another season begins and I am still here.
Are my days numbered? I shiver in fear.
You see I live a sheltered life devoid of endless fun.
On most days I get no more than 20 minutes out in the sun.
Patrons pass over me cuz I’m a misunderstood breed.
Unfairly prejudged no matter my plead.
So I whimper and lick the lock on my door.
Oh why can’t it be your hand, your face? Rescue me, I implore.

So thank you to those who volunteer so much of their lives to helping these animals. Shelters, rescues and advocacy groups could not function without you – and not nearly as many lives would be saved without your help.


Adoption Event Success!

The Montgomery County Humane Society qualified for the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge back in February through a voting competition (thanks for those who voted!). For this next round, we are trying to adopt out at least 300 more cats and dogs from August to October this year than we did during the same months last year. Even if we don’t adopt out the most animals of all fifty competitors, it’s a total win-win because hundreds of animals will find forever homes! We kicked off the Challenge with a big event this weekend.

Our theme is “HOME RUN” – every adoption is a home run, our animals are our all stars, and adopters are our VIPs. So fun, right? We had a total blast with it, including singing our own version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Check out our brief music video for Take Me Home from the Shelter!:

We had amazing success this weekend at our kick-off event, with lots of lucky animals finding forever homes. I, of course, was behind the camera all weekend and snapped pictures of some dogs and cats awaiting forever homes (many of which got adopted!).

Events like this are totally exhausting, but so rewarding. Knowing how many animals are spending their first nights in a loving home makes me squeal and burst into spontaneous happy dances. We are all looking forward to keeping this momentum and saving many more lives from here on out. If you’re interested in learning more, you should check out the shelters competing to see if one in your area is on the list – many of the shelters are doing very exciting things!


Note from a Shelter Worker

It’s a very different side of the fence, working at a shelter. On any given day you can experience both ends of the emotional spectrum.  You can lose and then restore your faith in humanity in a matter of minutes. You can leave feeling on top of the world because your favorite animal finally got adopted, or exhausted and defeated because in the hour before you left, the shelter received dozens of stray or unwanted animals. It’s an emotionally taxing yet incredibly rewarding job, one that not everyone is cut out for.

I work back in the administrative offices, so I don’t experience nearly as much of what I mentioned above as the kennel and office staff do. I commend them for the job they do day in and day out. But we all work in very close quarters, and often times we share the same emotions that come with working at a shelter regardless of title: frustration, happiness, sadness, anger, hope, compassion and love – to name a few. We’re like a family because we experience things the outside world doesn’t have to deal with.

We watch as someone gives up their 12 year old dog because they just don’t want it anymore. We keep our mouths shut when someone dumps a litter of underage kittens because they thought it would “be fun to have babies” then realized it was a bad idea. We watch as bunnies flow in after Easter, and we see time and time again puppy store puppies that didn’t grow up to be the cute and cuddly dog they were at eight weeks old. But we also learn not to judge those who use the shelter in times of struggle or when they’re doing the right thing. It is important to be polite to all who come in – even if they are giving up an animal – because when times get better for them, we hope then they will remember the experience and choose adoption.

The tough parts can be almost too difficult at times, but the rewarding parts of our job make it all worth it. Watching your favorite pit mix get out of the shelter after six months, seeing the “golden oldie” cats get adopted by senior citizens, making the perfect match for a family that is new at adopting… these are all things that keep us going every day. The best part? Taking your favorite dog (or cat!) out for a walk and watching them bound around in happiness can bring you out of any bum mood.

To some people it may be difficult seeing the animals in the shelter, but we know how much love and attention gets poured out to every single one. Of course it is not the ideal place for them, and we wish no animal would ever have to come here, but we do our best to keep them happy and comfortable while they are with us. We rely heavily on our volunteers, and appreciate them as much as the people who give the animals forever homes. Many of our efforts are supported by the generosity and compassion of those who have resources we need; we simply could not function without them.

So thank you to those who support your local shelter. If you volunteer with a rescue group you are still helping your local shelter because we rely so much on rescues pulling animals from us. There are also many other ways to volunteer and support, even past the money and fostering. Transports are needed to take animals to rescues, every shelter has an endless wish list including simple things like newspapers and old towels, volunteers are needed at special events – there is something for everyone who wants to help out. We know that many people cannot handle seeing the hundreds of faces of homeless animals, and we totally respect and understand that! We just want you to know there are many other ways to get involved as well. No matter what way you help, you are appreciated beyond words – by the staff, the volunteers, and most importantly the animals.

If you have any questions about animal shelters or the best way to get involved with your local organization, feel free to email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


Puppy Monday!

Here are a few pictures to give you a Monday morning pick-me-up.

These puppies are spoken for, but they’re still representatives for all the puppies in shelters and rescues awaiting forever homes. The myth that you have to buy a dog in order to get it during puppyhood could not be more false!

I’ll talk this week about some of these puppies and where we got to play with them. In the mean time, I hope you enjoyed that brief dose of excessive cuteness as much as I did.