Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Life with Winnie

July 6, 2012 1 comment

Winnie is my foster kitten. She’s quickly growing into my foster cat. She’s been with us for two months. My dog is intrigued by her. My cats disdain her. My boyfriend and I are probably getting a little too attached to her. She’s taking us all in like a giant gulp of water in a desert oasis.

I met Winnie when she was a nameless 3-month old kitten in a parking lot of a rundown apartment complex. A sweet soul in a scrawny body, she was malnourished, covered in grease from living under cars, and had a broken pelvis. The origin of the pelvis injury remains a mystery to this day.

Winnie’s prognosis in a shelter was guarded, at best. For an owned animal in a private vet clinic, it’s no big deal to order many months of convalescence without the promise of a good outcome. Owners are willing to give their pets the best chance possible, especially when the treatment consists of simply giving them time for their bodies to heal on their own.

But time is a luxury that shelters don’t have. Especially during the busy summer months. It’s hard enough to find a foster parent willing to take on medical cases. It’s even harder for a shelter to take up one of these rare foster homes for several months on one case. Why commit a home to one animal for the summer when multiple easier cases could come and go through that home in the same time frame? It’s the sacrifice one to save many theory, and it’s a concept that shelters unfortunately have to fall back on regularly.

Because of these factors, Winnie would not normally have had much of a chance. But something in her caught my heart, and I volunteered to foster this unlikely foster candidate. I knew the risk: after months of foster care, her pelvis still wouldn’t heal properly and we’d have to euthanize her. But she deserved a chance. And I didn’t like the thought of what denying her that chance would say about me.

Two months have gone by. Winnie has turned into a sleek, active, playful cat who capers around the house causing joyful havoc at every turn. Her severe limp has become a slight limp. She’s put on muscle in her back legs to even out the incredible hulk muscles in her chest that she used to support her weight when her back end couldn’t. Her meow still sounds a little froggy, a little abrasive. It’s a meow that says, “I came from the streets.” And when she looks out the window and watches the birds fly by, I wonder if she remembers her street life. But as she turns to look into my eyes before skittering off in pursuit of a toy in the next room, I’m convinced that she doesn’t miss the street life.

So many pets like Winnie exist—loving creatures who just need a little extra help. Giving that help doesn’t take a giant effort. But it’s easy enough to turn away and not offer, then quickly forget. My life would have gone on as usual had I not brought Winnie home. But hers wouldn’t have.

Life without Winnie would have been fine. But life with Winnie is better.

Categories: Pets Tags: , , ,

How to Volunteer in a Crisis

April 1, 2012 Leave a comment

A scared dog finds comfort in the arms of a trained responder.

Last summer, Arizona blew up in a series of wildfires that had the entire state looking like it was covered in the smog normally isolated to the Phoenix area. This summer we’re facing dryer conditions and hotter temperatures. So it’s not if, it’s when we’ll get another round of fires. When we do, homes will be evacuated and bustling towns will turn to ghost towns. In neighboring towns, schools empty of students will become full of refugees. And not far from those shelters designated for humans will be temporary animal shelters as well.

When disasters strike, people rush to help. It’s one of the redeeming qualities of people. So naturally, temporary animal shelters are inundated not only with four-legged evacuees but with people wanting to help. But here’s the rub: We can’t let you help with the animals.

It’s nothing personal. It comes down to safety and responsibility. When we open a shelter and admit animals, we take on a legal and moral responsibility. To those owners who may have already lost too much, we are making a promise that we will take good care of their pet. We’re not only providing safe haven for their pets, we’re providing peace of mind for their hearts and minds.

It’s because of this enormous responsibility that we can’t accept offers from kind strangers to walk dogs or pet cats. Animals in temporary shelters are stressed to their max. With proper training, handling skills, and vigilance, we can manage that stress and eventually reduce it. But in the meantime we have to be prepared for animals that may want to bite, or bolt. And while off-the-street volunteers have the best of intentions, we just don’t have a way to properly assess their skills and strengths in order to trust them to handle the animals in our care. There are few things worse in this situation than having to call an owner and tell them that we’ve lost their beloved pet when it got away from its handler. And the only way we have to prevent that from happening is to restrict the animal handling to our staff members who have already proven their skills.

This isn’t to say that walk-up volunteers aren’t welcome or needed. There are plenty of jobs to do at a temporary shelter. They’re just not as glamorous. They include washing dishes and sweeping floors. Anyone willing to make frequent runs to the laundromat with bags and bags of dirty towels and blankets will win shelter workers’ undying devotion and gratitude.

For those people who really only want to help with the animal handling itself, there’s still a way for you to do it. Volunteer now. Become a familiar face at the regular animal shelter and hone your skills in advance. By showing the shelter management that you are a reliable and valuable asset before disaster strikes, you’re much more likely to be requested as a reliable and valuable asset during a disaster.

We’re so grateful for all of our volunteers. They truly make a difference in our lives and in our animals’ lives. But during disasters, it’s just not possible to devote our resources to training new volunteers. We have to focus on the animals in need and their human families.