The Longest Walk: A Day In The Life Of A Humane Society Employee
Copyright 1998 Hugs Society All Rights Reserved.*
It is Wednesday afternoon. I make my weekly walk through our shelter and contemplate the number of animals we'll be able to bring in here tomorrow. Four cages in the dog's kennel area, two in the isolation room and three empty cat cages are available. Depending on the size of the available dogs, it appears as though we'll have nine to thirteen openings this week. We've had several adoptions in the last few days and are lucky to have this much space available. It's never enough though. If every single cage were open it would still not be enough. There are always more unwanted animals than we can house.
It's Thursday morning now. A morning like every other morning except for the weekly task that looms before me every Thursday. You see, part of my job is to go to the Harrison County Animal Control Center and "choose" animals there to take to our Humane Society Shelter -- animals scheduled to die on Friday morning -- more animals than we have room for.
There is a full house of animals at the Animal Control Center this week. As I walk down the gravel road that separates our facilities I can hear them barking and see some of them in their outside cages. Every single cage is filled to capacity with several animals in each one. Animals that never asked to be on this earth or in this place. When I open the door to the kennel area, I am greeted by a chorus of excited doggy voices. They each seem to beckon me to "look at me, choose me, love me....."
In Run 1 is a large litter (9) of chow mix puppies, each one equally adorable. Run 2 holds a very old Golden Retriever, two small briar scarred Beagles and a shy German Shepherd. Run 3 holds four dogs held for biting and Run 4 has two Terrier mix puppies, five shepherd crosses and a small puppy so mixed in breed no recognizable one can be named. Run 5 holds several dogs unavailable for adoption at this time and Run 6 holds twelve different puppies varying in size, shape and breed. Each one competes for my attention, providing antics to convince me to pay attention to just them.
As I start down the second side of the shelter, my heart drops. Run 7 holds four confiscated dogs whose owner is being charged with cruelty to animals. These particular ones have been starved. Two large, withered Coonhounds and an old shrunken Beagle lay together in the corner of the cage and a pregnant female Coonhound lies on the outside. The female is so thin each rib is apparent. Her hair is dull and lifeless as is her eyes. She barely has the confidence to look me in the eyes and I am glad. I'm glad because I don't want to see the pain that lives inside of them, glad because I am ashamed that one of "my kind" did this to her.
Her stomach protrudes awkwardly from her thin body, almost pulling her to the ground because of her weakened state. Food bowls are filled to capacity but these animals no longer have the desire to eat and are so ill the food goes untouched. As I turn to go, the pregnant female's tail slaps ever so slightly against the concrete floor. As cruel and horrific as mankind has been to her, she still longs for the kind word or soft pet she knows must be in them.
Runs 8 through 12 hold more of the same. Relinquished pets who aren't "cute" anymore or who ate little Jimmy's favorite toy. The St. Bernard mix who "got bigger than we expected (?)" and puppy after puppy whose owners thought they could find a home for them but couldn't. Puppies who have never known love or a real master and who for the majority of them, never will. Older dogs ready to die whose owners either didn't have or wouldn't spend the money it would take to put them to sleep at a private veterinarian's office. I see dogs who are frightened, depressed and unable to understand why they are here and where their master has gone. Dogs who because they are so withdrawn, will not find a new master in time.
Now I must "choose." I walk into Run 1 and bend down to examine the chow mix puppies. When I get to floor level, my lap is filled with the wiggling, licking puppies. Each lick says thank you. Each glance one of pure adoration. I choose four, two boys and two girls, choosing simply by sex as each one is equally wonderful.
Many of the animals I am looking at are too sick to be adopted out and therefore must be passed over by me as well. Their illnesses are caused oftentimes by the negligent way they were treated before they came here. Many die of parasites and controllable diseases that could have been prevented had they only received a little care, a worming or a vaccination.
In Run 3 I take the two terrier mixes and the small unrecognizable breed. From Run 5 I take a lab mix puppy, a half grown German Shepherd and two cocker crosses. I only have two spots left and I've just finished side one! I retrieve a Boxer mix from Run 9 and in Run 12 a Beagle puppy. I've reached my limit but there are so many more left. The animals look at me hopefully, wagging their tails and bouncing against the cage fronts. "Don't leave," they seem to say, "I'll be a good friend to you if you'll only let me try." I try to avoid their eyes and actions and remain focused on the fact that I was able to save the thirteen dogs in tow. I try not to hear their cries â€” try to pretend their not back there --the way so many people do when they leave them here.
I enter the cat area expecting the worst and I am not disappointed. Every cage is filled with every color and age assortment imaginable. I only have three available cages and there are at least thirty five animals in these cages. I pick three tiny kittens (I can put them in one cage and still have two choices left), a large white female about one year old and a large black and white neutered male whose owners "suddenly developed allergies."
My two kennel technicians walk over to help bring our pets to the shelter. Eighteen animals will be taken out of here by us this week (an unusually large amount) and we are still leaving over fifty animals behind that are available for adoption. Why can't we make people realize there is absolutely no reason to let their animals breed indiscriminately? I only wish they could see what we see every week of every year. We take our charges to the shelter and settle them in their new temporary homes. Each one is given a raised platform or a soft carpet to lie on, a full food dish and fresh water, a chew and a toy or two. Shots and worm medicine are administered and bathes are given. It's been a long day for us all. The animals settle into their new surroundings and we go home.
It's Friday now. If possible this day is often worse than the last. This is the day of the week that the animals we left behind are killed. We drive our cars by the closed facility and try not to imagine what is happening inside. Before long, we can hear the doors open and a thudding sound. A sound we know all too well. You see, this is the sound of their now lifeless bodies hitting the bottom of the truck that will take them to their final stop. The sound of the many creatures who only yesterday looked to me for comfort. Who asked me to choose them. Who only wanted one last chance.
I try very hard to focus on the good we do. I don't want to downplay the tremendous effort it takes to save and place the many animals we have, but I cannot forget the ones I didn't save -- the occupants of the truck that leaves the Animal Control Center every week. I walk back to the dog runs and view our newest arrivals. Everyone has had their cage cleaned, eaten breakfast and are now napping or pulling on their litter mate's tail. I bend down to the little Beagle I just brought in. She gratefully licks my hand and then my cheek. Her eyes are so full of adoration and gratefulness. I try to look past the tears in my own and for one moment forget that I'll have to do this again next week.
This article was written exclusively for Hugs for Homeless Animals by Teri Campbell who at the time was the Executive Director of the Harrison County Humane Society.
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