I am one of those people that immediately has a sad, foreboding feeling whenever I think of an animal shelter. And with the speed negative stories make the rounds, it’s easy to understand. There is the recent story of a shelter in South Carolina euthanizing Apache, a seizure alert dog just minutes before the owner called, or Brindi, the dog in Halifax that has been held by authorities for 10 months even though all conditions have been complied with. And there’s Boost the Boxer from Jaspar, Alabama who was euthanized within an hour of being turned into the local shelter because he was scared and they were full.
Yes, bad news travels fast and when it involves pets, pet owners are likely to remember the story longer because it impacts our heart.
So when I came across a story written by Deborah Wood, manager of animal services for Washington County in Oregon where she states, “…modern shelters, like the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter where I work, are joyful places to be,” I nearly skipped the article. But something in the back of my head said, “Wait a minute. Give it a read.”
It’s a feel-good article. How nice to read a story about a shelter from the other side, from the side where good happens — pets get reunited with their owners or adopted into new and loving homes. She kindly stayed away from the abysmal statistics we hear all too often and showed me some light.
While I still say that I would hate her job, I appreciate her opening the door to the good side of life at our shelters and promise to remember this each time I hear a bad story. Here is Deborah’s story:
A dog’s (and cat’s) life
by Deborah Wood, guest opinion
Monday June 08, 2009, 8:30 AM
For the 11 years I wrote the pet column for The Oregonian, I don’t think a week went by that someone didn’t say: “I want your job.”
The reaction to my new job as manager of animal services for Washington County is very different. The phrase I hear most often: “I could never do your job.” Apparently, working at an animal shelter is too depressing for most people to contemplate.
The reality is that modern shelters, like the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter where I work, are joyful places to be.
We get to see the happy endings. I’m thinking of the sweet couple who came in recently to celebrate the husband’s birthday by adopting a dog. The dog they chose came in as a stray that no one bothered to reclaim. She left the shelter as a treasured pet and the best birthday present ever. Or the woman who lives in a retirement home and adopted a senior-aged Shih Tzu. “He’s just been waiting for someone to love him,” I said. “That’s a two-way street,” she answered.
These happy stories are repeated every day. Last year, the Bonnie L. Hays Shelter in Hillsboro found new homes for more than 2,200 cats and dogs. So far this year, our adoption rate is up 25 percent over last year’s. That’s a lot of joy in one building.
Adoptions aren’t the only happy endings. We’re the place where stray pets get reunited with their worried owners. We help more than 1,200 dogs and cats get back to their owners every year. Imagine the seeing relieved owners, eyes flowing with happy tears, as they take their animals safely home.
Public animal control agencies like ours do as much out in the community as we do inside the shelter. Who comes to help when there’s a loose dog dodging cars in the middle of a busy street? Or a dog has bitten a child? Or a bobcat has found its way into your storage shed? Our animal control officers respond to about 8,500 calls a year on issues from the mundane to the jaw-dropping. They have jobs every bit as dramatic as the heroes you see on the “Animal Cops” shows on Animal Planet.
There are also acts of everyday kindness that the public never sees. We have volunteer groomers who bathe and comb and fluff scruffy, scared strays until they look like stars in a Disney movie. We have a growing corps of foster families who nurse and socialize kittens until they’re old enough to come back to the shelter and get new homes. We have employees who come in 365 days a year to feed the animals, walk the dogs, and clean cat cages. There is a shared humor, a camaraderie and a sense of adventure that makes these challenges fun.
If you come see us, I bet you’ll say to me, “I want your job.”
Deborah Wood is manager of animal services for Washington County.
reprinted from The Oregon Live website