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Why I Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

Updated on December 24, 2014
I took this at a struggling shelter in California.
I took this at a struggling shelter in California.
This is a picture I took at a shelter to help boost adoptions.
This is a picture I took at a shelter to help boost adoptions.

Sometimes when I tell people that I work with animal shelters in a variety of capacities they respond with something like, "I could never do that. It would be so hard when some get put down." You know what? They're right. It is hard.

I've cried over a dog who I've never even met who we failed to find a placement for using social media. In a no-kill shelter I've been crushed when an animal comes back to us after being placed out and we have to start all over again with an animal a little more broken than before. I've had to smile kindly to people explaining to me that they don't want their Saint Bernard puppy anymore because they, "Didn't realize it would get so big." I've had to keep the judgment out of my eyes while someone told me it was inconvenient to move with the cat they've had for nine years.

I've done photography in high kill shelters knowing that maybe this picture could save this puppy, but then again, maybe it wouldn't. I've looked at a kennel of dogs and known that if we work really hard, maybe we can save half. I've peeked into a room full of kittens in peek kitten season and felt despair knowing that we wouldn't be able to take adult cats from our struggling neighboring shelters for a while, knowing that kitten season spells the end for lots of adult cats who have the misfortune to end up in the shelter at the same time.

It is hard. It's hard every day. Every day we come in to work or volunteer knowing that we're saving lives, and that the problem is bigger than all of us. We come in knowing that no matter how hard we work someone in our community is making more pit bull puppies in their backyard. Someone else is hording a ton of under socialized cats in their home that will soon be one of our daily challenges. We go to work knowing that sometimes we're going to fail to save a life. That not getting that adoption today means that the cage isn't open, and somewhere, someone is going to lose their chance as a result.


A picture can sometimes save a life. That's why I do shelter photography.
A picture can sometimes save a life. That's why I do shelter photography.

So why do we do it? It's unbelievably hard, and the cost of failure is devastation. We do it because sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we meet a potential adopter and we know exactly which animal will complete their family. We do it for the reward of boxing an animal and passing them on to their new guardian. We do it for the young children who learn from our programs to be future responsible pet guardians.

We do it for the day when a young man brings in his pit bull and says, "I thought about what you said at the shot clinic. You can spay her. I won't breed her anymore."

We do it because some days community members bring in forty or fifty feral cats to be fixed and vet checked and we know that doing that every week means a humane solution to the feral cat problem, and millions of kittens we won't need to find homes for.

We do it for the feeling when you finally find someone willing to take on that cat with kidney stones. We do it for the first pet that a shy cat allows after months of sitting reading to them in their condos. We do it because someday that cat will find a home because we spent hours of our lives reading them Shakespeare, and letting them figure out slowly that we will never hurt them.

We do it for every life that we save and because the lives we don't deserve to be mourned. We do it for puppy kisses and kitten cuddles. We do it because when you measure the cost to us it doesn't equal the value of even one life saved.

The first pet that Dixie allowed, after six weeks of visits.
The first pet that Dixie allowed, after six weeks of visits.

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      Melissa 

      3 years ago

      You touched me so much with this article. You are a living angel. You help those who cannot help themselves. You are a hero.

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