When people learn I volunteer at a shelter, they often say “Oh, that must be fun” or “I’m sure that’s gratifying.” What I never say in response is that it’s heartbreaking. It’s very sad to see people abandon their pets for reasons that are often the result of their own poor judgment and planning. So many people get puppies and kittens on a whim without considering the cost, time, and resources involved over the lifetime of the pet. My recent favorite was someone who couldn’t afford boarding her cat while she was traveling for the holidays; I secretly wished her many delays and bad weather. And seeing the effect on the animals of being abandoned and having to be in the stressful shelter environment continually breaks my heart. At the volunteer orientation, I was the only one who was crying outright (when she talked about the reasons they euthanize), and I often leave the shelter in tears.
So why do I do it? Because of success stories like Winston. Winston, a beautiful tabby and white cat, was found as a stray and brought into the shelter. Soon after he was diagnosed with diabetes, which requires testing and insulin shots two times a day. Because he is a young cat, he would be a serious commitment for someone. Winston was in foster care since July. The group of volunteers I’m involved with raised money of our own to pay for advertising for him, and I helped to post his information on free sites like Craig’s List. Seeing all the other ads for designer breeds and healthy kittens always made me depressed: who was going to adopt Winston?
Someone eventually did adopt him….for about 24 hours. Despite instructions to introduce him slowly to the household (something everyone should do), the adopters just let him out immediately, and were upset when they found him sitting on top of their bird cage. They must have put him in a carrier all night long because when they brought him back to his foster home the next day, he had pooped in the carrier (something that a cat would never do unless he had no other choice), and the poop was all over him.
Well, everyone was pretty depressed after that. Again we advertised and did outreach, and I wondered who was going to adopt Winston. Finally, last week, he was adopted into his forever home. The woman had one diabetic cat already and had seen the ad posted many months ago. After considering it for months, she met him, fell in love, and adopted him.
The moral of the story is that there is someone out there for even special needs homeless pets. But it takes persistence and patience to find the right person—which can’t be done without volunteers. I am so happy when an animal gets adopted—and if I’m there when the people are adopting, I just want to run up and hug them—so in the end it really is gratifying and worth all the heartbreak.
If this story moves you and you want to help, volunteers are always greatly needed and appreciated at shelters. Other ways to help are to spay and neuter your pets, think about the right pet for your situation, adopt instead of buying from a breeder, and if you do adopt, make it a lifetime commitment.