Thursday, October 6, 2011

SEEING THE BIGGER PICTURE…………….by Jen of JenniferLynn Productions

This was a hard blog post for me to write.  I actually conceived of it last winter, and I've been rolling the idea around in my head this whole time.  I was not sure how to put all of my thoughts together or even where to start.  I just knew that it was time to jump in.  This blog post is an emotional one, and I'm sure it will garner a range of reactions.

This is the story of how I saw the bigger picture one day last December and got over myself. 

I am an individual rescuer. I do not work with any one group, but I will step in where needed and will cooperate with different groups in order to pull off a rescue.  I have 7 rescued cats of my own, so I no longer take in animals.  Unfortunately, this also means I'm unable to foster right now.  I just find needs and step in where I can to help fill them.  There are a few other local rescuers with whom I correspond from time to time, as well.  I have never worked at or volunteered for my local shelter, though I have applied to work there a couple of times in the past.  I am a strict no kill proponent, always seeking the solution that will ultimately avoid a kill.

For a long time, I did not have a good relationship with my local shelter.  Indeed, my own and other locals' opinion of the shelter was very negative.  At one time, many of us joined forces to try and bring about change.  A local group was formed, and we showed up at meetings to try and bring about the change we desired.  There were no dirty tricks—just local citizens expressing our disapproval of how things had been done in the past.

In my own case, I was involved in two rescues in particular, which failed, I felt, due to actions on the part of this shelter.  Other people have related similar stories.  First, there was the case of Esther the dog.  An employer of my ex's had had a customer who had abandoned his dog at their kennel.  This kennel owner decided to turn the dog over to the shelter with orders to kill her immediately.  No reason—the owner was just mad that they had not made their money.  My ex called me, and we scrambled to get to the shelter and intercept the dog. (I do understand that the dog was the property of the kennel owner, and therefore the owner had the right to demand this, cruel as it was. We had simply hoped to plead for the dog's life and foster her until we found a home for her.)  When I got there not even two hours after the process started, I mentioned that I was there about the dog.  The person behind the counter looked at me with dead eyes and said, very flatly, “Oh, that dog's dead.”  No emotion.  No compassion.  I was angry, and I made that fact known.

The other failed rescue I encountered was that of “Ruby,” the cat.  Two of my cats, Sam and Musashi, came from one of her litters.  My ex had been able to catch them, and some neighbors caught some of their other siblings, but we didn't manage to catch the mother.  I used to see her all the time.  She was beautiful.  Sam looks just like her.  One day, as I was leaving for work, I noted she'd had another litter, so I called my city's animal control, not realizing that they worked with the same local shelter with which I'd had problems in the past.  The officer with whom I spoke was kind enough to call me and let me know the status of the cat.  I had told him my intention to have her spayed, re-release her, and care for her as a feral.  He was supportive.

When I found out she was at this same shelter, I started calling them every day to try and negotiate for them to release her to me.  I had a vet who would have done the spay, and we had a wooded area where I would have been able to release her and care for her.  They kept telling me, day after day, “You don't want to do that.  She's too wild.  Too wild.  Too wild!”  I kept repeating myself:  That I had a vet who would spay her, and that I had a plan to care for her.  “Too wild,” they kept saying.  “You don't want to do that.”  There was no effort on their part to work with me.  Sadly, the last time I called, I got the news that she'd been killed.  (At the time, the shelter had a five-day feral hold.  I don't know what their policy is now.)

Both of these incidents made me very angry, and for a very long time, I considered the shelter a non-entity.  I would not go there, and I definitely would never take an animal there.  I would steer people looking to give up a pet in other directions.  (I still do that, but now it's due to my preference for no-kill.)  All the while, I kept my ear to the ground and followed news about the shelter. 

Many of us hoped to see improvement, and the shelter does seem to be doing better now. Some improvements have been made to the facility over the years. There have been changes in staff and leadership and some of their other practices.  Most importantly, I am seeing better communication from this shelter.

This brings me to last December.  My mom had given me a large dog bed, which her dog was not using.  I wanted to keep it for my cats, but my boyfriend felt it would take up too much room in the house.  It was also too big for my vet's office to use.  Not wanting it to go to waste, I finally decided to set aside my feelings and take it over to “the dreaded shelter.” 

One day over my lunch hour, I went by and took it to them.  I ended up having a very nice conversation with the woman behind the counter.  She happened to be someone I had known in the past, and her personality stood in stark contrast to what I'd encountered there previously.  They were happy to have the dog bed, and she let me know that they take anything people want to donate.  I was able to ask her some very frank questions, and there was no hostility or tension in the conversation.  We both care about animals, and we both have the same goal in mind:  Save as many as we—as a society—can. 

The shelter is still a kill shelter, but my understanding is that they are working toward no kill.  My county is in talks with contractors to build a newer, more modern, better-equipped facility.  I think I remember reading that the new facility will even employ a vet on-site.  I am seeing more collaboration between the shelter and rescuers, and I even have at least one animal rescue contact who is either an employee or a volunteer there.  I get an overall more positive feeling from this shelter now.

My experience that day was an important lesson to me, and I hope that my sharing it will help other rescuers who, like myself, have been burned by their local shelters.  The lesson is this:  We cannot turn our backs on our shelters.  Together, we cast a wider net and can help more animals.  The bigger goal is to help animals.  Sometimes, that means letting go of some expectations and looking at what can be done in the here and now.  It also means remembering that the people on the other side of an argument from you are still people, and that what drives us all in animal welfare is passion.  We cannot let our passion get in the way of what is best for the animals.

Do I want to see killing eliminated as an option everywhere (except in obvious cases of irredeemable suffering, of course?)  Heck, yeah; however, having a kill shelter is better than having no shelter at all.  Finally, the only way to get people to listen to us and to learn from us is to be kind.  As soon as the shouting and finger pointing start, people stop listening.

For me, this realization was profound, and I felt very humbled that day as I walked out of the shelter.  Will I ever work there?  Probably not.  I cannot stomach being in a kill environment.  It would not be good for me; however, I will not hesitate to work with the shelter in other ways.  I took one small step in that direction when I donated that bed, and I took another tiny step this past summer when I lent some of their volunteers my tent for one of their fundraisers.  Next year, I may sign up to sell at this event, helping them to raise funds in a more direct manner.

Thank you for reading my story.

Lucretia, my cat

Submitted by: Jen of JenniferLynn Productions and JenniferLynn's Finds on ArtFire where you will find a great mix of handcrafted jewelry, accessories, and photo art, and interesting vintage items. As an active member of the Crafting for Animals Guild, Jen is participating in the special coupon promotion this month from 10/23 to 10/29 to help raise funds for CFA's spotlight charity, Close to Home Rescue. Read all about it HERE or click on the box below.

Use coupon code 10CTH-CFA at participating stores to help Close to Home Animal Rescue


Scotti Cohn said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Jen, and for allowing us to gain valuable insight and understanding from your experiences.

3 Peeps Designs said...

Thanks for a great article. I too came to a similar understanding not too long ago. I help my shelter when I can with supplies or money donations. I won't/can't vounteer there despite the pleas of my kids. I get attached quickly and I don't want to know who will be put down when their time is over. And I certainly can't afford to bring them all home with me. I did volunteer a few years ago for another non-kill shelter and that was much better but I still came home with cats, LOL.

JLynnPro said...

3 Peeps, I hear you! That's part of the reason I don't volunteer, too, but the biggest reason, at this time in my life, is there is no time. I have a full-time job AND I run JLP, AND I take care of my 8, etc.

I'm glad people are enjoying this post.

Debra at Sleepy Cat Designs said...

I appreciate how difficult it must have been to write this article. But your personal experience and viewpoints will help all of us when faced with similar decisions or feelings. We each have to decide what we can and cannot do while still helping as many helpless and homeless pets as possible. We all have limits and it's a very personal decision. But being able to change when necessary and where possible is always a sign of strength and courage. Thanks, Jen!

Creative Critters said...

Thank you for sharing this! It had to be very difficult for you to go back to that shelter, but I'm glad things are starting to change there. Hopefully one day they will be a no-kill shelter, and until that time, they will still help as many animals as possible.

El at Tantalizing Stitches said...

I agree completely! I've adopted three cats from a kill shelter. Each of them were on their last day. Although I wish all shelters were no kill, I was grateful to be able to save my three cats.

Pam said...

I am glad that things have improved at your local shelter, and hopefully they will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing this story. It gives everyone a lot to think about.