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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Helping in Small Ways

I love animals, but I find it difficult to volunteer at animal shelters and humane societies due to the large number of unwanted and homeless dogs. (I care about cats, too, but dogs have always held a special place in my heart).

I worked for a very large humane society in California for eight years, until I got burned out. I volunteered with a variety of animal shelters and rescue groups after that. Then I found I couldn't handle the cruelty and heartbreak and never-ending stream of homeless and unwanted animals any more. I have had to 'unlike' numerous Facebook pages because I can't bear to read about yet another horrible abuse case, or another dog in desperate need of rescue or funds for medical care. I simply cannot save them all. So my volunteer efforts have been focused on wolf rescue and feeding the hungry at a local food pantry.

But yesterday, I did something to help dogs by volunteering at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic sponsored by New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society. I didn't have to worry about seeing homeless animals at risk of being killed due to a lack of homes. There were no abused animals. All the dogs and cats I saw were there because their humans care enough about them to have them sterilized.

I put in 4-1/2 hours, mostly comforting dogs post-surgery, bringing dogs back to the recovery area after their operations, cleaning dirty cat cages and keeping a tiny Chihuahua warm until his family came for him. It wasn't difficult work, but it was rewarding. Each of the 27 dogs and 12 cats spayed or neutered that day should have a happier, healthier life as a result of a simple surgical procedure. And they will not add to the millions of homeless, unwanted dogs and cats in this country.

The dogs ranged from a tiny Chihuahua to a 91-pound dog named Brutus. Some were frightened, all were confused and stressed. Some were quiet, while others howled and barked their displeasure at being confined. Volunteers comforted and spoke to those most distressed. I enjoyed sitting with a beautiful Rottweiler named Grim, and talking to Brutus and his son Beast. A pit bull puppy named Zoe was absolutely adorable, and covered anybody she could reach with kisses.

There was a steady stream of people arriving all afternoon, some seeking vaccinations or microchips for their dogs, others wanting to sign up for next month's spay/neuter clinic. It was gratifying to see so many people caring enough about their dogs to bring them in for treatment. And where appropriate, people were gently educated about how to take better care of their animals. I pray that the woman who feeds her dog a diet of chicken nuggets will realize that despite how much she loves her Chihuahua, that diet is a major reason he has ear, teeth and skin problems. He needs to be put on a diet of quality dog food.

I definitely plan to volunteer again next month, maybe for a longer shift. I can no longer handle the emotional stress of volunteering at a facility filled with homeless animals. But I can, and will, support the proactive efforts of New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society to improve the health of dogs and cats and at the same time keep them from adding to the already staggering numbers of animals in shelters throughout the state.

It felt good to do a little something to help eliminate the problem of too many animals and not enough homes. I didn't organize this monthly effort; I can't do the surgery; I donated just a few hours of my day. My efforts were minimal; other volunteers were there all day. Some set everything up the night before the clinic opened.

So to those who comment that "I could never work in an animal shelter; it's just too sad," I say "I understand your feelings. Why don't you sign up to volunteer at a vaccination clinic, a spay/neuter clinic or some other program that helps animals?" It's a great way to contribute in a small way, and to be inspired by those who make these programs possible through their dedication and hard work.

My hat is off to all who work so hard to make these clinics not only possible, but such a success that there is a waiting list for spay/neuter surgeries. See you next month!