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.

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