Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day with the Animals

On the way to the SPA (Society for the Protection of Animals) yesterday ...

This is us en route to my first day as a benevole (volunteer) at the local animal shelter.  [Practicing making mini-videos with my little blue camera.  Hint:  Try not to hit too many red lights.  The camera doesn't know what to do when the rolling landscape abruptly stops! Also, I can't figure out how to get rid of the annoying Google pop-up ads. Click on the "x" to remove them.]

Last week a new little creature arrived on our doorstep, abandoned and starving. She was all skin and bones. We named her Chloe and took her to the SPA where she was given an exam and put up for adoption.  A less-than-five-minute casual conversation with the animal handler who came to pick the little stray cat up was all it took to get me hooked--on volunteering.  It's funny about those things--a random remark here, a casual reference there, that piques your curiosity so that you're prompted to inquire further, and before you know you're suddenly involved in something you'd never considered before. 

I did not always have a positive view about animal shelters.  Someone had once told me that after a few days, if no one adopts the animal, it is put to sleep.  That may be true of some shelters, but not this one.  Every effort is made to find a new home for their animals.  Some are there for as long as six months or more, being fed and cared for, until someone adopts them. Animals severely wounded, seriously ill or wild and unmanageable cannot be put up for adoption.   

Yesterday I got to see Chloe and play with her for a while. (Here is her up-for-adoption announcement). 

During the 2-1/2 hours I was there I walked eight dogs and did playtime with three cats. For the dogs, they asked if I preferred a short leash or a long one. The one thing I know about dogs and leashes is that it's hard to run and play when the leash is short. So I opted for the long one.

When I went into the Dog Room, all the dogs started barking as soon as they saw the leash. "Take me!"  "No, me!" they seemed to be saying. Which one to choose? I picked a 4-month old mixed-breed Labrador/Dalmation named Frip. Of all the dogs, he was the only one not barking. He was just lying there in a corner looking kind of sad. So I took him first.

<--Frip.    What a friendly, playful dog he turned out to be. He seemed to come alive the minute we hit the air outside.  We walked the perimeter of the grounds onto an adjacent, wooded field. I threw snowballs and he chased after them. Leaping, almost.  I had as much fun as he did. I brought him back, and next took out a dog named Renata; "I adore to live in the country!" her file says. So she, too, got taken near the woods.

My greatest challenge was walking a Huskie called Top Gun. What a name for a dog, a tribute to its perceived macho-ninity, I suppose. Sixty-four pounds of raw brute energy, it was all I could do to hang onto him. His favorite thing was diving into the snow, burrowing his nose deep into the earth and chewing on everything in sight. I had difficulty putting him back in his cage, it seems he wasn't quite ready to go back in yet.  "Offer me stability and love, and I will show you all my loyalty," his adoption file states.

It was funny:  every one of them pushed their nose into or tried to eat the snow.  A beautiful, mixed Golden Labrador named Maggie just wanted to play tug-o'-war with the leash and tried bringing a big scratchy branch back in her mouth when we got to the entrance door. To a one, they all loved being outside.

Then it was on to the cats. I got to visit Chloe, who was as affectionate and playful as I remembered her from our first meeting a mere two days before when she showed up at our back door.

The cats are not often let out of their cages and so even ten minutes of playtime or getting their hair brushed or simply being held and paid attention to is a real treat for them. My mate arrived before I was scheduled to leave and so he joined me in hosting a cat in the play room--three, actually: Glosette and Pitoune and one named  Dur a Cuir (which in French means "Hard to Leather.") What kind of a name is that for a cat? I asked. It means, he explained, the equivalent of "Tough Cookie". This cat, according to its bona fides, seems to have had a difficult life. "I have probably known the great cold of winter, without a place to warm myself.  It is why I have lost the tips of my ears," its file said. "But with my passive nature and my original look, I hope to find a loving family that will assure me a warm place for life!" 

How kind, to term a physical disfigurement "an original look."  I've heard a similar enactment of this tendency to soften the bald reality of a situation--in this case re: humans.  Say someone, one of your friends of relatives, is especially difficult to deal with;  downright weird, even.  Rather than the negative-sounding "Oh, he's impossible!" or "She's really strange", one says instead, "He (or she) is special."  

As to some of the shelter's "special" animals, one of the employees there told me he and his wife adopted two physically handicapped cats after no one came forward to take them--one cat had only three legs and the other one a mysterious condition where it could not support its own head.  Its head "bobbled" and the poor thing could not hold its head up straight. I once saw a guy in North Cambridge, Massachusetts carrying his aged dog up and down the sidewalk for a "walk" because it could no longer walk by itself. Most people would have had it put to sleep at that point. There are people for whom that is the last option, not the first. And there are people who bypass the cute puppies and kitties and choose the seemingly least adoptable creatures to take home with them, knowing these animals will require special care and may not live as long as their younger, more physically fit counterparts.

Who among us at some point in our lives hasn't lost a beloved pet to illness or accident or old age, vowing never to go through that again, declining suggestions to get another one.   Sometimes we do--get another one. You can't really replace a lost loved one, pet or person.    There will never be another exactly like them.  Ever. But love locked in for what has already passed--is love locked in.  Sometimes it's good to let love out again, for another being--one who could use it, would welcome it, and there is something to be said for the healing that comes from love recycled.  Just my opinion.  Life is too short not to share love, to take some of that love for what is already gone and allow it to flow again to what is still very much here.

Not long ago you could adopt a dog or cat here for around $20 or $30. The price has since more than doubled, mainly because the shelter is currently operating at a loss. All domestic animals are required to be registered in this city. The money from these licenses constitute 60% of the shelter's revenue but as of the end of last month they were $68,000 in the red.[1]. Many people, rather than pay the yearly animal license fee of $20 or $30, claim the animal has been lost, or deny having domesticated animals altogether. The situation is  especially problematic in the case of cats.

According to an article last week in L'Hebdo, an estimated 6,000 animals are abandoned here each year. Since January, 2010, according to the SPA, 5,635 files have been opened for abandoned or lost animals. Of these, a total of 1,723 animals have either been adopted out or reclaimed at the local SPA. Some people adopt an animal but then bring it back.  "It was too frisky", they complain; or "I don't have the patience to work with it" (in the case of a too-shy, defensive or overly energetic animal).  And so it is put up for adoption again.

The shelter can only house 40 dogs, 90 cats and a dozen other animals (such as rabbits, or parrots, or gerbils, etc.  A 4-month domestic rat named "Albert" is currently up for adoption for only $10.)   Just last week, someone left a box of newborn kittens outside the doors of the SPA. "These animals were literally frozen," said an employee who has worked there for five years. "I've seen everything," he says. "I think I could write a book."

With the new, higher prices for the adoption fee, some otherwise willing would-be adopters struggling with economic woes may think twice about forking over $75 to $115 for an abandoned dog or cat. One is always  juggling priorities. And yet people seem to find money for the latest electronic gadjet, especially around Christmas time, according to some recent polls assessing consumer-spending habits. 

All I know is, Frip and Chloe and their fellow cage-mates sure would love to find a new home this winter.

How many stray cat visitors  we have seen come and go, come and go; how many rescued, or found shot with a BB gun, or ravaged by another animal, or hit by a car, or frozen on a porch, just in our small neighborhood alone..

<-- Our Pépé, when we first found him, 6 years ago.  We found a neighbor woman willing to adopt him but two days later she knocked at the door, a brown, zipped up satchel under her arm, bringing him back to us.  Her landlady would not permit her to keep him. I'm not going to bore you with hearts suddenly melting (ours) but that's exactly what happened.  (You had to have been there.)  Suffice it to say, Pépé stayed.  We probably should not have named him before we attempted to give him away.  Made it all that much harder when he came back.  He wasn't just "that little cat" anymore.  He had a name.

It is expensive to have a dog or cat "fixed" so they won't reproduce. And when people move, they sometimes can't take their pet with them. What would happen if places like the SPA did not exist?   But it does. And both their temporary and long-term animal residents eventually all get adopted out. Some are just there a lot longer than others.They would like to expand, add more holding space, build a park behind the shelter, hire a permanent, full-time veterinarian, more staff.  They need a generous benefactor, more people willing to adopt.

What an interesting day it was. The downside is--and my mate warned me about this--you can get too attached to them.   Everyone I have ever known who has worked in an animal shelter, at some point, burns out.   A lot leave and don't come back.  "Too hard," they say.  "Too sad."  I can understand why.  It is hard seeing these animals all caged and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, to find a home; or arriving in pain, or too sickly or injured to be saved.  But for now, time and weather permitting, I look forward to continuing going there. Running in the snow with a happy dog--the greatest feeling in the world.  Seeing an animal get adopted out--priceless.

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