My pilgrimage into the sometimes crazy, but never boring world of animal rescue started as a kid with the baby bunnies my mother would find while she mowed the knee-deep grass in the backyard. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs so if one was off and the day was half-way sunny, the grass would be cut. As myself and my siblings grew older we would take over the mowing and just like mom, we would also find the new spring bunnies.
Mom would let us bring them inside and it was our job to feed and care for them as to such time they were old enough to be released back outside into the woodpile that provided the only real protection from the outdoor cats we had prowling the neighborhood and therefore our yard. This process repeated itself every spring for some years and in addition to our wildlife rehabbing we also had the regularly prescribed pets kids usually have when growing up: dogs, cats, and the occasional fish.
There were a few times that we ended up with birds, but not the kind you buy at the pet store after pestering your parents and promising that you would feed and water your new pet forever and ever. Mom knew this promise would only last a week until we grew tired and surprised that our new best friend can’t live on air alone. After that week she would have to add it to the list of daily chores which ranked up pretty close to keeping us kids alive. I think the pigeon we brought home with a broken wing whom we affectionately named Junior was the last straw.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I saw a post on Facebook about a “pardon” going to happen at the animal shelter in the county of the state I had relocated to in my adult years. Two things crossed my mind and piqued my interest. The first is what is a pardon at an animal shelter mean and where was the shelter that Google Maps told me was a 15-minute drive from my house. Of course, being in a rural part of the state 15 minutes usually has you out in the middle of a cornfield and this was pretty much where this one was located. Actually, it was next to the county dump so I soon found that during the sweltering summer months that only south Alabama could produce, I needed to pray heavily that the wind would blow in the opposite direction of where I was. So now on to what is a pardon.
I showed up that Saturday morning not knowing what to expect or even where to park as nothing remarkable stood out from the place. A chainlink fence, two buildings that came from different time periods in history and lots of noise. The noise was that of only what a group of 80 or so dogs can make at once. I wasn’t sure what they were howling, barking, whining, and baying at, but I soon found a group of people standing in front of one of the buildings waiting for something to happen. I walked across the parking lot towards the noise of the dogs (and a few cats I later discovered) and quietly joined the crowd. Someone whispered asking me what rescue I was from and I had to answer none. I was just a regular person who saw the post on Facebook and was curious. As it turned out that was the best answer anyone could give.
The pardon was just that, a pardon. This shelter I was standing at was the county’s animal control facility and had recently been taken over by a new director. The dichotomy of the operation was unusual in that the facility and the property were owned by the county, but the staff were state employees. The Director wanted to change the way the place operated and reached out a well-known person in the animal rescue world for some help. Shane’s War agreed to come and help with the agreement that during the time he and his friends were there all the animals on the property and all that were brought in during the few days they were there would be spared the needle. Shane’s War was successful with other shelters so here he was to help this one. He gets the word out and networks to find homes. Shane and his crew have a dedicated group of followers. On this trip, he found a home for a group of feral cats that were slated to be euthanized because they were not house cat material.
A local news crew was there to capture the moment the pardon was signed by all in attendance and the congratulatory slaps on the backs by the politicians who are always ready to take credit for someone else’s hard work. As the crowd shuffled up one by one to sign their name with the sharpie marker forever becoming a piece of shelter history, I found myself next in line. Not wanting to awkwardly step aside while everyone was watching I stepped forward and signed my name on the next blank spot.
I had planned on getting back in the car and going home, but the same person who earlier had asked me what rescue I was with asked if I wanted to stay and help out. Not having anything else to do that day I agreed and before I knew it I was given a tour of the place (as small as it was it was pretty much a drive-by tour, walk-thru the maze of corridors in the old building trying not to get lost and thinking that I really needed to keep some crackers in my pocket to leave a trail) and handed a leash. I guess I looked like I knew how to walk a dog. Good thing I really did.
I ended up staying through lunch and into the afternoon, only finally climbing back into my car when the gates were ready to be locked and the lights shut off for the day. I was hooked from that point on and became a full-time volunteer for nearly two years walking dogs and teaching basic manners, e.g. leash walking, sit, stay, come, etc., to help them find a home. I helped out from time to time in the cat rooms, but the rooms were so small that more than two people at any one time was a crowd. I prefer dogs to crowds on any given day.
During my time there I took pictures and videos of the new arrivals from the local animal control officers and posted them online to help reunite them with their people. The shelter did not have a social media manager so I started following their Facebook page and answering questions for people who lost pets and were hoping they were there. This was the time when I also started answering questions from rescues both instate and out of state about the animals. This county has a breed ban and the choice for those unfortunate dogs was either having a rescue take them or be euthanized. The Director wanted to give every animal an equal chance of being saved so he consulted with trainers to help evaluate the dogs. Behavior in a shelter is different than behavior in a home environment and he understood that. The euthanasia rate for dogs dropped dramatically during his tenure. The rate for cats dropped as well, but not as much as we would have hoped for. This county has no leash laws or requirements for animals to be altered and we all have seen the statistics on how fast cats procreate. One cat can produce 100 kittens in her lifetime if she goes into heat just 3 times a year and has on average 8 kittens per litter. And that’s if she only lives to about 5 years of age. Can you see the problem now?
Two of the best days I had there was on a Saturday morning when 10 dogs were adopted in a 4 hour period. The staff agreed to stay late to process the paperwork. That was the most adoptions in one day that they had ever had. The second best day started out on a sad note when I walked in and one of the staff told me that they had 18 cats, mostly kittens, that she was going to have to euthanize after lunch because they needed the cages for new cats that had just been brought in. Great. So what am I supposed to do in only 3 hours and with 18 cats? I sat on the tailgate of my truck in the parking lot (the only place I had a wi-fi signal which I’m pretty sure was wheezed off the farm across the street or the county dump behind me) while the sky politely drizzled a healthy dose of liquid sunshine on me and got to work emailing, calling, and tagging every person I could think of and find who I thought may be able to help.
As the time for the 18 quickly ran down, I had a few responses and even a commitment from a rescue to drive 2 hours that afternoon and take the 13 kittens. That left 5 cats still to save. I asked for an extension for all the cats while the rescue made the drive. It was granted, but only until 4 pm because if any were euthanized it had to be done during the normal operating hours of the county dump so they could take the bodies there to be disposed of. Another rescue answered and committed to two of the adult cats. By the end of the day, 15 of the original 18 were saved from the needle. I failed the remaining 3, but that just made me want to continue helping to the best of my abilities.
I never thought about creating a website, but fostering is what saved those kittens and cats that day and there are several sites dedicated to finding adopters, but none to finding temporary homes for animals that would otherwise be put down to make room for the next batch of incoming strays. I admin on several rescue and lost/found Facebook pages and try and match up lost to found posts as well as the ever-popular “I’m moving and someone needs to take the dog/cat or I am taking it to the shelter today” or “I’m pregnant and due in a week so I don’t have time for the dog”. Nevermind they’ve had the dog for the last 8 months and now decide they can’t have a baby and a dog at the same time. With that in mind, I created this website and blog as a graduate school project and the response so far has been very positive so I am running with it. Several of the animals profiled on here since it went live in February have already found either a foster or an adopter. You can also follow this blog on Twitter (@fostermeorg) as well as on Facebook. The shelter I volunteered at changed hands and the dog euthanasia rate has skyrocketed thanks in part to the breed ban and the fear of being sued for adopting or returning a dog that may or may not bite someone.
Thank you for reading my blog and I hope to see you on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any comments or want to know more about fostering in your area, I’d love to hear from you.