Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Roller Coaster Continues...

I have often described the volunteer work I do as a series of highs and lows that come at breakneck speed.

Literally, I have always loved roller coasters.  I'm scared to death of heights, but the adrenaline, the thrill of conquering fear, of surviving...well just the fun of it....I like them.

Figuratively however, I'm not at all loving the roller coaster of my shelter volunteering.  Especially after today's low.

I spent most of the day today at an offsite event.  It was the first where I had cats to adopt out since I'm mainly a dog person and since the kennel is still closed for kennel cough (I did have 2 dogs from foster along with us).  I was nervous because I've never done offsite cat adoptions and my experience with the cats at the shelter was primarily that I'd go hang out with them for a little bit after I did my dog thing.  I didn't have any experienced cat volunteers with me and I was the lead; everyone looked to me to know what to do.  Luckily for me, the feline manager at the shelter was awesome and gave me everything I needed and everything I needed to know to be able to handle it.  While we didn't adopt out any animals this time, we got some good leads, some new volunteers, some exposure for the shelter, some donations and an offer from the business to come back and do it all again.  It would have been a much bigger high if I had gotten at least one adopted out, but I was feeling pretty good that I didn't screw anything up!  I thought about some ways we could do things differently next time and considered it a great learning experience.

Then I got back to the shelter.  While unloading the car, one volunteer immediate came up to me and asked if I had heard about the fight yet.  Down the slope we go....

One of the very dog aggressive dogs that was not up for adoption was being kenneled next to a dog that is up for adoption but was being monitored because shelter stress was leading him to severely drop weight.  This dog was a volunteer favorite.  Just last week, he spent the day at work with a volunteer and was going again next week.  He'd been to a black tie fundraiser with a volunteer in heels.

A volunteer was about to walk him when the dog kenneled next to him broke through the kennel and attacked him in his own kennel.  She was able to break it up but not before he had in self-defense bit the ear of the attacking dog.

The attacking dog was put down almost immediately.  And then the word was out that the attacked dog was now also being considered for euthanization.  I tried to reassure a couple that it wouldn't happen -- I said come on, he's even the favorite of one of the board members.  But the board doesn't make the decision.  What the board decided on ages before is that 4 out of 6 designated people must sign off on a euthanization.  And only one out of those 6 positions spends any amount of time with an individual dog and that position is currently vacant.  When it was filled, she was frequently given a hard time when she refused to sign off.

The volunteers quickly rallied and tried to influence the decision.  They found a rescue that would take him.  One offered to take him home that night.  But while she was making calls and wasn't there to see, he was removed from his kennel and killed.  4 people signed off on it.  They deemed him unadoptable.  Because he was capable of defending himself.  Because he didn't lie down and take it.  Because he was a pit bull.

We're a "no-kill" shelter.  We've got a 95% save rate.  But that 5%...well, it sure beats the heck out of the 95% kill rate the other large shelter in our area has.  However, when killing is determined based upon a faulty decisioning process and the undefined term of "unadoptable" by people who are barely familar with the dog, it certainly doesn't seem to wash with me.

This one has really rattled me.  With Jigger, there was a human bite involved.  With others there was human aggression involved or extreme inability to redirect at just the sight of another dog.  But a dog who was just defending himself?  And the board hides behind "4 people signed off".

I really feel like the organization is losing its core focus and what drove me to volunteering there and I don't know what I can do about it.  This is a long downward slope and I can't yet see the upward slope leading me to the next high.  What if this time I don't survive?  What if there's just no adrenaline left?

I've got a new volunteer orientation scheduled for Tuesday night.  Right now, I can't see how I can do my "spiel" without getting sick.  Because that's what if feels like to me at this moment.  Just a spiel.


  1. Hang in there. I'm a foster mom from NJ and I know that there are moments when the pain feels like it will out weigh the rush we get when it goes good. I've shed a lot of tears, too. Vent, cry, scream, curse, and let it go---for the next one.
    Look to the next dog or cat that needs a home and will have a better life because you took the pain and moved forward---for him.
    Until there are none...we foster one.

  2. Hi there... that sounds very stressful. :/ Sorry to hear it - hang in there...

    Thanks for stopping by... I'm following you back and look forward to reading your posts.