Five Years at the Shelter
July 7 marked five years I’ve worked at the shelter. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been five years. I titled this post “five year adoptiversary”. We send happy adoptiversary cards at the one year mark of when a family has had their pet in their home. Despite all odds, it seems that over time, I was somehow adopted into the shelter and it has become a part of me. I am a part of it as well; the place is a lot different now than it was when I hired on.
The first few weeks in my job, I cried every single day and made regular trips back to my previous job, Community Action, at lunch. Things were difficult then. Within my first month at the shelter, mice had chewed through the brand new phone system, the Department of Agriculture came for a surprise (complaint-driven) inspection, my veterinarian walked out after all the animals were anesthetized for surgery. The med room was full of sick cats, and I woke up from a nightmare one night screaming…I had dreamed that I was in one of those cages. I kept telling myself to give it six months. Then I could find another job. Six months became one year. The majority of the Board and staff members were new. And things started to change. Instead of just trying to hold it together, we started to grow and make improvements.
The shelter had raised money many years prior for building improvements. It was never spent. One of the things I knew upon hiring on is that the money would have to be spent. We started big, with outdoor dog kennel reconstruction, the creation of a quarantine wing, education and training center, and surgery suite. The cat med room of my nightmares was gone. We’ve also replaced half the roof and added a building generator so we can clean and water the animals when the power goes out (it goes out with great frequency).
Outdoor dog kennels, Side One
Big Building Project
Expanded Surgery Suite
I’ve gone back through my photos and the shelter documents, and can’t seem to put my hands on any “before” shots of the surgery suite. Perhaps the nightmare of the cat med room was such that I couldn’t manage to capture it on film.
After (prep/recovery room):
After (surgery room):
I used to worry that the cages would fall through the rotting walls and floor in the old part of the building – really, a shed stuck to the side of the building. It was full of rodents and impossible to clean.
Education and Training Center
Back before I hired on, the shelter had the city and county animal control contracts. These kennels were packed with up to five dogs in each. After the Board set a limit for the number of animals based on humane treatment/reality of funding, these kennels weren’t needed. But what we did need was an education and training room.
Really Torn Down:
Although I like dogs, it’s no secret that I’m more of a cat person. I’ve supported Tabby’s Place in Ringoes, New Jersey for years. Loved their idea of cat solariums. And that’s what I wanted to create at our shelter. A special place for the cats, where they could have fresh air and sunshine. A place to reduce their stress. We found the money, and we built the cat solarium. It is a million times better than I could have imagined it would be. The cats love it.
Outdoor Dog Kennels, Part Two
When we were raising funds for the cat solarium, we decided our next project would be the reconstruction of the stray outdoor dog kennels. The adoptable side was completed in 2009. We started to raise funding. And, to my surprise, we were able to start the project last month. It should be complete around August 1.
There’s no secret that the majority of my time at the shelter is dealing with either fundraising or solving some sort of horror-show problem. I’m looking at the big picture almost all the time. But it’s such a small staff, it’s perhaps not surprising how hands-on I am with the animals as well. It doesn’t happen all the time, but maybe once a month I am scheduled or needed to come in and start by cleaning an animal area (tomorrow I’m on the schedule to clean med/stray cats. It will occupy the first three hours of my day). If there’s animal fluids on the floor, I clean it up. I fold laundry. I do dishes. I help with exit physicals, trim nails. I answer the phones all day long. I help with customer service.
There have been so many animals who have touched my heart. Of course, all of them do, I’m not saying that. But sometimes, there is an animal that somehow takes more of your time and your attention. Anyone who has been following my blog for some time has seen pictures of Ridge, my special cat. His new mama came in to visit me week before last. He is doing great. Ridge was the first animal I took a stand over, changed a bad policy over, insisted he had a place at the shelter. Ridge is the reason I pushed so hard for the cat solarium. Ridge was my reason for going to work on some days in the beginning when it was really, really hard.
Ridge Goes Home – May 2012
A Life Changing Environment
One of my ‘favorite’ things for people to say when I tell them where I work is the standard “Oh, I could never do that.” How do I respond to that? You could never do that…because you have a heart and I do not? You could never do that…because you care about animals too much (more than I do?).
Working at the shelter five years, the place is significantly different. It didn’t happen in a vacuum, though. I, too have been changed dramatically by the past five years. Yes. There is sadness. There are names I can’t – I won’t – forget. Images that I can’t scrub clean from my mind. It’s affected my family. They too have been exposed to sadness and the horror of what people do to animals. Especially Bob. He’s always there to answer the phone and recognize that I’ve been crying because of some horror. He’s always left to pick up the pieces, and he doesn’t get the benefit of the good things (like cuddling cats on breaks from work).
You really don’t have any concept of what I do…how could you? If you did, you’d keep your cats indoors, train your dogs and sterilize your pets. You should do those things, all of those things. Please, do those things. One litter is simply one litter too many when there aren’t enough homes for the animals in the shelter now. Train and socialize your dog. Keep your cats indoors, take them to the vet regularly, and spend time with them just like you would a dog. An animal is a lifetime commitment. Our dog behaviorist uses a single sentence to demonstrate what humans need to do to provide appropriate care for our pets: YOU have the bigger brain – USE it!