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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why are they not chosen?

I have volunteered in shelters for many years. When I was a kid, my Dad would drive me to the Kiya Koda Humane Society in Indianola, IA where I would walk dogs and feed cats. It was a great experience and I, of course, fell in love with many of the animals I met. I remember one little bitty dog that I was helping to brush. Some people were there looking to adopt and I remember being in shock over how they didn't choose that little one. It was the most perfect dog in the world I thought. Years later, I went back to that same shelter as an adult and found my own perfect dog- Matisse.

One of the shelters I volunteered with later was the Animal Lifeline. They are a small no kill shelter in Des Moines, IA. I would go on a Friday night with a friend and we would walk dogs and clean cat cages and give meds. Back in those days, I had started college to become a vet.. I never did become a vet.. I came out an artist instead. The no kill shelter was great in that I knew every animal would be there the next time I went into work.. and if not, their absence was a good thing because it meant they had a home. That shelter specialized in injured and abused animals. I saw so many horrendous things. Animals beaten so badly they had to have limbs removed and bones set. I learned there what bait puppies were. At that shelter, I also saw time and again the horrendous aftermath of what puppy mills do to dogs... prolapsed uterus, rotten teeth, dogs that looked 10 that were only 2. I held warm packs to cats who were recovering from amputation and talked softly to dogs with litters who had been left behind in abandoned homes. It was a very good learning experience and it was there that I learned why heavy gloves should be used when handling a cat hoarder's victim. ouch. But, I always wondered how so many of the animals never left. They stayed and stayed. I kept wondering why did not anyone chose this one or that one.. they were so perfect... why were they not chosen? Some never were. They lived out their lives in that little shelter and those broke my heart the most, because I knew them. I knew how amazing they were and I just never could understand why they never were chosen.

Years later, after tons of non vet college, I volunteered at a small rural shelter in TN. The Newport shelter is were I began this whole project. When I began they had high euthanasia rates and were in the start of their rolling rescue program. Through the efforts of so many to send animals off to other no kills, their rates have declined. Many times though I wondered why the no kill rescues were not interested in one dog or another. I wondered why they wouldn't choose a hound I found particularly friendly or a beautiful mop of a dog that sat patiently in her kennel. That was a hard place to be. It was there that I photographed the euthanasia. I saw dogs and puppies die and it was the most horrible thing. The whole time I just didn't understand why not one of them were chosen? Why wasn't there someone out there who could have loved that red bone coonhound or given that pit mix puppy a chance? Why not them? Why couldn't they have been sent to safety or to a home? On one hand, I saw miracles there. I saw dogs sent to New York who ended up on national TV and living on Park Avenue, but I also saw dogs die because they weren't chosen. While there, I was able to do something amazing. I drove the rescue van up to New York with 30 something dogs and puppies to safety at no kills. I was elated and tired when I arrived, but when I walked into the massive warehouse of a building at the SPCA my heart sank a bit. It wasn't because they were not taken care of - they were well taken care of.. may people working there to save every life they could. What upset me was the sheer numbers. I don't know how many, but cage after cage. I don't know how many that were there were never going to be chosen to be adopted. I know I heard many wonderful stories about our TN dogs and how they were chosen. But, what about the rest? I still wonder if there are any there today still waiting that were there in 2006 when I went.

Now I find myself going to the Miami Dade Animal Services in Miami Florida. I was drawn to them due to the massive numbers they take in and the high numbers that never make it out to safety. When I started, I just went in to take my pics to use in my art and did not announce my visits or talk with anyone. One trip changed that in that I caught an especially sad image of a dog. I was terrified she would never be seen because she was so scared. I knew no one would see her the way I did. I knew no one would choose her.. so I put her picture online. It helped. She did find a home. So now, when I go, I try to go through the pictures as quickly as I can because I know their time is limited.. just too many coming in constantly. I post those the images that come out really well and/or those dogs who connected with me or that I think just needed that extra help. I miss so many though, but I try. I post them on Facebook and people share them and it seems to have helped some. Not all though. Still, no matter how many times they are shared and no matter how many eyes fall upon that dog or no matter how many people meet the dog it is still not chosen. I find it heartbreaking to read that a dog I had hopes for has been euthanized. It happens all the time. Why could not someone have just chosen that dog or that puppy? Why couldn't a no kill have chosen that one? Below is the picture of one such dog. Her name was Brown Eyes. She waited for someone to take her. She had her picture circulated online. She attended an adoption event.. and none of it worked... no one chose her.. and she died.

The sad thing is that no matter wether a dog or a cat is in a kill or a no kill shelter.. if they are never chosen they either are left to live their entire life in a cage or they have their life ended too soon. There is nothing wrong with the unchosen other than no one wanted to or could take them away and give them a life. I will never know why one is chosen over another. It is hard.. when you go to adopt it can be overwhelming in the shelter.. there are so many. That is the problem though. There are too many. Until we, as a society, stop breeding our pets and start adopting there will be millions unchosen every year. You may hear numbers quoted as to how many millions are killed each year in shelters.. think about how those numbers can be lessened if only we choose to do the right thing and adopt and not breed our pets. Also keep in mind that while millions die in shelters over not begin chosen .. millions more languish in cages waiting to be chosen year after year. If you find yourself wanting a pet.. adopting is the way to go. You not only get to choose a fantastic new member for your family, but you also get to choose to save a life.. and that is a pretty cool choice to make.

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