Thursday, January 7, 2010

Opinion Time - All About the Fight

When people learn that Sophie and I volunteer at a "Kill Shelter," we get a variety of responses. One of the most frequent seems to be a variation on, "Oh, I don't know how you can do that - I couldn't handle knowing that the animals might get put to sleep."

I'll be perfectly honest: it isn't easy. Personally, I'm usually drawn to the animals who have the most difficult time getting adopted or rescued, as I (somewhat abashedly) suspect a quick look back through many of Shelter Diaries' posts would indicate. Given that part of working with a shy, frightened, or headstrong animal is getting to know how it thinks... well, it seems like I wind up making a lot of friends I know I'll lose in one way or another. It's inevitable. The only way to avoid the painful part is not to do it at all. A lot of people take that route, and I can't fault them for it.

I often compare the animal shelter to a field hospital in a hostile land. Of the countless numbers that come in through the front door, many will never leave. You will lose many lives, no matter what you do, and that's just the way of things. But if everyone were too timid to make the effort, you would lose all of them. I don't view that as a palatable option.

It's impossible to "make yourself" stop caring. Empathy has no on/off switch. So you mourn each one that doesn't make it. As Sophie pointed out to me when Buster died, though: "The heart is one of the largest, strongest muscles in your body. Like other muscles, it hurts when you overwork it. And like other muscles, the pain only means it will be stronger the next time you have to use it." Every animal I've worked with has left me a stronger person, including and especially those I've cared about enough to leave me gutted when they die. That strength is something I can bring to the next dog who needs a hand, who I may or may not see leave the shelter.

In the end, you can't focus on the big picture; it'll crush you and drive you out of your head. Each day, each animal, each moment... that's where you have to work. It isn't about winning the war. It's about giving the fight everything you've got. That's what matters.



Christy said...

Beautifully said, Tim. Even my favorite poet/author, Kipling (a man who deeply understood the natures of both men and dogs) could not have put it better.

But the largest muscle in the body is where we sit and the strongest moves our jaws. So maybe the sentiment is even more accurate if we all got off our behinds and to help rescue efforts and spoke out to encourage everyone to SPAY AND NEUTER and ADOPT NOT SHOP then all shelters could be just that: safe havens to shelter abused animals and the odd true strays, not places where people dispose of pets they no longer find convenient to care for.

I find it ironic that the same folks who most object to helping out "because it's a kill shelter" are the same ones who want "just one litter" or won't sterilize their animals and never consider adopting from a shelter or rescue because, never having been to one, they wrongly imagine "they're all problem animals".

Thanks for getting the word out. Every little bit helps...

I'm currently not allowed to volunteer in person (because I cannot help bringing animals home). But I'm working to chance that and doing what I can otherwise, knowing in-person work, whether volunteering or fostering, is what is most needed.

Tajana and Almir said...

All these dogs had a good pet on their head, a good romp in the back yard of the shelter and have exchanged a piece of love with you. Keep on going!

tcsteger said...

So wonderfully said Tim and thank you to you and Sophie for all the work you do at the shelter.

Every story I hear of an animal at a shelter that doesn't make it makes me want to hug my own three cats more.

Do you mind if I share this with Larry Powell?

Toni :)

Sophie said...

Sorry for the late reply, Toni. Sure, go ahead. Anything posted here is for everyone to read and share.

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