You go to a shelter and you choose a dog or cat. In a perfect word, you love that pet more than anything ever. They live a full, happy, long, healthy life with you and when its time to head towards the Rainbow Bridge, you let him or her go with dignity and you hold them as they take their last breath. Your heart is broken and you will never be the same.
You should know that before this was your dog or cat, it was loved by someone at the shelter. You see...each animal has a story...each is special in ts own way. They don't just get warehoused at the shelter. Their personalities come out, each volunteer and staff member has their favorite - the one that they hope gets adopted by the right family, but also hopes is still there when they come for their next shift.
Those of us who work in animal rescue love them all as if they were our own. We'd take them all home with us if we could. We worry about them, watch them adjust to shelter life and hope only the best for them. We wonder what happens after they are adopted. Some families keep in touch and update us, others are never heard from again. If they only knew how we crave information about our kids, just a picture or a note that says all is well.
Some dogs and cats have foster homes before they are adopted. Those people love the animals like their own. They live with them as part of their everyday life, their routine. And then they let them go. Years may go by and those foster families still think of their kids who went on to live with someone else. I have cried when each one of our fosters has been adopted. I tell each one before they leave that I will love them forever. I say "I don't know what your future will hold, but I know that when you take your last breath, no matter when that is, I will still love you". And its true.
Sometimes the adoptions don't work, sometimes the kids come back to the foster home where they are greeted with open arms. Sometimes they come back to the shelter and its heartbreaking for the staff and volunteers to see those familiar faces walk back through the door. Because we hope the best for them.
Sometimes they come back in worse shape then they left. Then we feel guilty. We feel like we should have done better finding them a home. We should have somehow known. Then there are the times when we find out the worst - an adoptive family had an issue with the animal and instead of asking for help or returning them - they've had them euthanized. This is a hit to the gut like nothing else. It didn't have to end that way and the thought of it is almost too much to stand.
I am lucky that I have worked at a no kill shelter. Think of the volunteers and staff that work in a place where animals die every day. Not because they are too sick, but because there is no room, no time. Imagine leaving your shift on a Thursday, saying goodbye to the animals you cared for that day, only to come back on Saturday and find that some of them are gone....not adopted or transferred...but dead. Good animals. Gone forever. Without a chance.
Then imagine listening to a person who has come to surrender their dog or cat because they just don't want them anymore. I can tell you that we feel no compassion for you when you aren't willing to make an effort and you don't even seem to care that you are saying goodbye. You should take it very personally when we don't want to make small talk or seem unfriendly. We think less of you. Honestly, we do. The animals at my shelter are lucky, some of them have been with us for years - some cats for 5 years, dogs for 2 - waiting for their new home. When an owner surrender comes in, it makes me sad, but I know we will find the right home eventually. At other places, when an owner surrender comes in, the staff knows that animal will die and they will die soon. So please understand when we don't say "thank you" on your way out.
Then there are the people who have tried everything, who want to keep their pet but can't. They sob as they fill out the paperwork, they sit in their car and cry for an hour before they can drive away. They call every day to check and see how their animal is doing. We cry with them and feel their pain. We tell them we will take good care of their kid and find him or her the right home. Eventually the calls stop and they become our kid. Its too much for them to know that their dog or cat is still at the shelter, waiting....
We take your pet back to its new kennel or cage. We sit with them, we hold them and tell them it will be okay as they cry, stare at the door waiting for you, or throw up with anxiety. We cry for them because they deserve better. We cry for them because you don't. We watch as the days pass...eventually they stop looking for you. They get sad or angry. We watch the months go by and we see them start to accept that this may be their new home. While it makes us feel better to see that they aren't so anxious anymore, it makes us sad because the shelter isn't their home...it shouldn't be their home.
Over time, we harden to the reality of it. We have to. Otherwise all our time would be spent crying and being angry. But there are days when its all just too much. Days when one too many people come in to surrender their pets. Days when one of the long term residents is especially angry or when they have a meet and greet that doesn't go as well as we had hoped. Days when we see our friends buying from a breeder or getting rid of their pet for whatever reason. The days when someone we know says "oh you work at the shelter? Great...I need to get rid of my dog because we are moving and don't want to take him with us". Those are the worst. Those days we feel like we are spinning our wheels and its hopeless.
Its just important to us that you know that before you, someone loved your dog or cat. Someone who gave their time and energy, who worried, cried and will always wonder how their story turned out, loved them and always will.
Its also important that you know after you, someone loved your dog or cat. Even if its only the volunteer or staff at the shelter. Even if that animal ends up euthanized due to space. Or if they are so scared in the shelter that they are marked unadoptable and killed. Even then - when you couldn't love them enough, someone else did. You may be able to walk in and drop them off like they don't matter...but some stranger picks up the pieces, loves them and cries for them when they are gone. And its important that you know WE live with that....every day....because of you.
And we won't ever stop, because if we don't do it....who will?