Do you remember what it was like during the 35-day Federal shutdown in 2019? The longest shutdown in US history was stressful for most. I began to equate the term “non-essential” with “unimportant.” As someone who decided to work for the Federal Government when I was 7 and to do it for an agency whose mission meant so much to me (the National Park Service), I got pretty depressed. So I walked into Abandoned Pet Rescue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and told the manager there that I’d scoop poop, clean cages, wash dishes, do laundry…anything that DIDN’T involve spending time with the 30-40 dogs or 200+ cats that lived at the no-kill shelter. As an animal lover with two “kids” at home, and having recently lost a third, I just didn’t think I could handle it.
And so, I was “hired,” and introduced to a mountain of dirty food and water bowls. As the sink slowly emptied, someone would walk by with another pile. It was relentless, but I enjoyed it knowing that I was helping the animals until they could be adopted. One problem: the sink was next to a cage full of kittens. They were absolutely adorable with their squeaky little voices, bright blue eyes, and perfect tiny pink toes splayed out towards me begging for attention. But I stood my ground, steadfast in my promise to not get emotionally involved with the animals. I was NOT bringing home another!
Those pink toes, though!
Soon I was hugging kittens who had no idea how needle-like their tiny teeth were. When I sat down in one of the large free-roaming cat rooms to pet (we call it “socialize” at the shelter) an adult cat, I felt somebody playing with my already-sparse hair. It tickled. I laughed out load for the first time in a while. I took a selfie-video of the tiny kitten “attacking” my head, and soon everyone on social media knew what I had already confessed to myself: I was a goner.
After the shutdown ended, I just couldn’t stop going. When the COVID-19 pandemic again disrupted all our lives, and my plans for a vacation were foiled, I started using my vacation time a little each week to volunteer more.
For someone who loves working directly with the public, helping the cats and dogs gave me a sense of fulfillment I was no longer getting at work.
Abandoned Pet Rescue averages almost one new arrival every day of the year, and it is just one shelter among many across the nation. In this time that is so crazy for all of us, funding for the animal shelter is down 40% due to in-person fundraisers being canceled and many donors facing hardships. The shelter’s operating expenses have increased due to a rise in animals being surrendered and higher veterinary care costs. The silver-lining? More people have been applying to adopt pets during the pandemic as they are home seeking companionship, but it’s important for adopters to make a lifetime commitment to a pet.
So, what can YOU do to help?
Role model? Make sure your own pets are spayed and neutered to stop the vicious cycle of overpopulation.
Like to exercise? So do shelter dogs! Why not get trained to be a dog walker?
Social media maven? Share posts from shelters…you never know what connections will be made.
Good photographer? Great pictures (like the ones accompanying this story) are crucial links in the adoption process.
Neat Freak? Dishes, laundry, and poop pile up pretty quickly at an animal shelter, and the work takes little training to fulfill.
Amazon shopper? Use Smile.Amazon.com instead and designate the donation to a shelter of your choice.
Thrifty shopper? Look for sales on quality (no dyes) cat and dog food. Pick up an extra gallon of vinegar, box of baking soda, Dawn dish soap or high efficiency laundry soap and drop it by your local shelter.
Handy? There’s always something for volunteers to fix.
Crafty? Make up baskets of goodies to be sold or raffled at events that benefit the shelter.
Stressed? Research shows that petting a dog or cat reduces stress levels in just ten minutes.
Afraid of Commitment? Foster a dog or cat. Some animals just don’t do well with others of their species and crave a quieter environment.
Planner? Don’t forget your pets if something should happen to you. They’ll be scared and having someone they know taking care of them is way better than going to a shelter.
Adopt! Please reconsider shopping for a pet when so many animals are in desperate need all across the country.
Donate! Through the CFC (givecfc.org) or by some other means, your donations are crucial for food, supplies and medical care, as well as utilities and rent.
Today, I can’t imagine my life without my time at Abandoned Pet Rescue. I have my favorites there (looking at you Simba, Isabella, Evie, Manny and Dove!), but the best days are when I go in and see one of “my” kids listed on the adoption board. It’s OK though, because I know they are safe at home playing or watching TV with the human they’ve rescued.