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Animal Shelters: Behind the Shelter Walls
Back in the mid 1980s, I began putting my concern for animals into action by volunteering as an outreach docent at an animal shelter then reasonably local to me, (Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, California). An outreach docent travels to various elementary schools, bringing an animal to illustrate points of care and training.
At the time, I no longer had a dog of my own, so I borrowed a friend's dog, and off we went to thrill young ones with a dog being allowed in class. The students responded well, and the dog had no objections to the extra dose of attention from all the kids wanting to pet her.
There were also other things I did with the animals while at the shelter. I would take the adoptable dogs out on leashes, and into the rear play area, where they could be off leash and play ball, or do their 'business.'
Sometimes instead, I would brush them and play with them indoors in one of the get-acquainted rooms, if the weather was wet. The dogs didn't care one way or the other. They were all hungry for attention, and needed and deserved a break from being shut up in concrete kennel runs all day and night.
It was always sad to see puppies all alone in a pen. I would wonder what happened to their mothers. Did the people who owned the mother simply take her babies away? Was she hit by a car? Was she a stray? Those were questions that rarely had answers.
At the time, the shelter in question, along with the majority of shelters in the country, was not a no-kill shelter. It always broke my heart to see a pink tag on a kennel door. It meant that the dog had been there too long to have a chance of being adopted, so it was to be put to sleep for no better reason than lack of space.
There was no shortage of cats who also needed attention and socializing play time. Naturally, they could not go out and play in the dog run, so they would be taken to an available get-acquainted room for some out-of-the-cage play time, grooming and cuddle time.
By the time I was doing this, both my dog and my cat had passed on, so it was also an opportunity for me to get to enjoy the company of and interaction with assorted furry friends.
Sadly, the cats were not immune from the dreaded pink tags on their cage doors. That hurt me as well; maybe more so. I do love kitties, and wished I could adopt them all. Unfortunately, cats are similar to rabbits in their propensity for prolific breeding, and they were at even higher risk of being put down for lack of space.
Whenever and wherever I saw those tags, I died a little inside.
The poem that follows came out of my experience there. I became one with them, and speak with their voice in this piece.
Behind the Shelter Walls--OR--The Voices of Cell Block One
I've a heartful
Don't pass me by:
I need a chance,
No jailbird, I,
despite these bars:
my prison, I don't understand.
Please save me from this place;
there's no one here
I really know,
I hear cries; smell fear.
Although the people are kind,
I cannot stay.
Come, look in my eyes:
by C.E. (Carl) Elias 1985
It was so very sad, so heart-wrenching, to go through the kennels and see those pink tags on the doors--knowing the poor, healthy, animal was marked for euthanasia.
This is a terrible travesty; a brutally inaccurate euphemism for killing healthy animals for lack of space instead of actively seeking homes.
Their pain and fear became my own, and this poem was the result, as well as the impetus for my research into the issue.
New Era; New Policies
I am very pleased to report that since my time there, PHS has become a no-kill shelter. Thus, they now truly live up to the name of being a shelter.
Save a life; adopt, don't shop!
HALO Shelter CatsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Everyone Can Do Something!
Donate money or goods to your local rescue group; if you can't donate, adopt; if you can't adopt, be a foster; if you can't foster, volunteer; if you can't volunteer,
please help spread the word.
HALO Cats and Dogs
Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization (H.A.L.O.) is the name of the group with which I am now active. This group fosters cats and dogs in private homes, and actually finds homes for every pet that is adoptable.
The group takes in both dogs and cats, currently housing them all in various foster homes while they await adoption at weekly events.
The volunteer fosters take care of these animals as if they were their own, socializing them where necessary, and providing all of the other needs such as playtime and grooming.
The cost of feeding is covered by the organization, as are vaccinations and spay/neuter services. All animals adopted out have already been spayed or neutered.
Please donate whatever you can to your local shelter or rescue group. Help them save animals' lives. Everyone can do something: if you can't donate, adopt, if you can't adopt, be a foster, if you can't foster, volunteer, if you can't volunteer, then help spread the word. Every little bit helps the animals.
HALO and the Cat House
Euthanasia with this group is rare, and happens only if an animal is very old and/or very ill with no good prognosis, and that is the real definition of euthanasia. It is exceedingly rare for kittens to be put down; it would happen only if they tested positive for the feline version of AIDS. Even then, there are some families who will take in such positive-tested cats, because they have no other pets who could catch the ailment, so they give the animal a loving home for the time it has.
If an animal has been in the system so long its adoption is unlikely due to the sad fact that most people adopting prefer cute little kittens over an adult cat, that cat is then likely to become what is known as a 'foster failure,' in that the family fostering the cat adopts it themselves.
Otherwise, there is the recourse of sending the kitty to another, very remarkable lifetime shelter known as The Cathouse on the Kings, near Fresno, California. There, all sorts of cats can live out their lives in peace and comfort. There are quarantine areas for cats with contagious ailments, so they, too, can live out their lives in safety.
The price is fairly steep; a donation equivalent to the cost of caring for the animal for the rest of its life, or an exchange for a couple of litters of kittens, where other rehoming organizations are concerned. (This option is not open to individuals wanting to surrender a pet.)
No More Building to House the Cats and Dogs
For a time, H.A.L.O had a building that was perfect for our purposes, that of housing cats and dogs who could not be fitted into the foster program, usually because of a shortage of foster people. I took the cat photos that appear above back in 2012, when the group had that facility.
However, politics came into play, and the city decided on another use for that space. Hence, we are back to fostering exclusively in private homes.
Meet the Founder of the Cat House on the Kings
Will You Help?
I hope this article has encouraged you to help with your own local rescue group or shelter, wherever that may be.
From this website, you can find a listing of all kinds of animal-related volunteer opportunities nationwide, and choose the one that fits best for you.
Also check out your local shelters in the phone book; your local SPCA; and Google websites for rescue groups near you.
© 2010 Liz Elias