In November of 2007, I gave my first interview for the project. I did interviews for the paper, radio and then the TV news arrived. The day I met with a local reporter, I had just lost my Grandmother. I remember how excited I was when the shelter had told me that the channel 10 out of Knoxville had contacted them and wanted to meet with me. It was scary since the project was still new- at that point I was still trying to find the best work and had a few drawings, a ton of photographs, and a trash bin full of rejected art. I had hoped to have a bigger and better body of work before I went in front of a camera, but I couldn't pass it up-- after all, it wasn't just about me and my work- it was about the dogs and cats in the shelter-- the interview could help save them. At the time I had lived an hour away from the shelter so I got up that day and cried over my Grandmother, got in the car with my few meager drawings and drove to the shelter. It was hard, talking about death and not being able to say anything about the loss in my family. I also hate being on camera, but I had to promote my work and more importantly I had to promote the animals.
At the same time I was meeting with channel 10, another news station got wind of the situation. Instead of coming to me about my work, they took the overcrowded shelter angle. I never met with them, instead I saw their report on t.v. and talked with the shelter staff about their experience afterwards. The other station had showed a story about a small town shelter dealing with overcrowding and at one point the reporter held up an elderly yorki mix and proclaimed that the dog would be killed. The shelter directed had told me later that the dog actually had a rescue to take it- but when asked if the dog could be killed she had said yes, since- until they leave through the front door- they do have that chance of being euthanized. She could have shown a number of healthy and wonderful animals that needed homes and explain how they would have made wonderful pets- but, she did not.
I went to work the next day and my coworkers all had seen the stories and it was exciting to be able to talk to them about it. I had such high hopes. There had been press and the world was told about the dogs and cats needing homes- they had been told about the urgency-- people knew and they could do something about it.
Things are different now. I make work not just about the animals that die- my focus is just on the animals in the shelter. I go to Miami now for my subjects. However, there is the same problem. People go into a frenzy when an animal is killed- yet, there is no frenzy to adopt. Because I now post my work online, I follow the comments and stories about the ones I post- but also of the rescue community in general. Nothing upsets me more than when I post a dog and month later that dog is still there. No one came for it and very little is done until it is killed. When it dies people become angry (as we all should) and they point fingers and blame the shelter. They call the shelter workers murderers and killers. I am tired of the name calling.
Recently, I had been called a cancer when I was questioning one group who was causing some confusion in their postings on facebook. It is all conduct unbecoming. If people spent half as much time figuring out ways to save the lives instead of going insane when they are lost- imagine how much progress could be made. I wish those involved in rescue would realize that by constantly putting out there such horrible words such as murder- they are pushing some people away from ever stepping foot into a shelter. After all, who wants to walk through the door of a place full of murderers? I wonder if that reporter had not held up that dog and proclaimed it was going to be killed... if people would have responded differently. Maybe.. maybe not. Words matter and to those outside of the rescue community who are looking to adopt will see those words. Do we want people to adopt in a panic merely to be able to save a life- or do we want people to adopt because they want a new member in their family?
We can all say the shelters are the ones killing the animals, because physically they are the ones who are giving the lethal dose. But, what about the lethal dose that is put upon a shelter when it comes to public perception? We should always be honest, but should we not want to promote that there are tons of happy and healthy animals in the shelter? By using such language and attacking those in the shelters- and people such as myself who are involved, it can turn off a public who might otherwise want to do the right thing by adopting. We need the public to adopt- not to be horrified- we don't need a knee jerk reaction - we need a way to bring more responsible people in and not scare them away from the shelters.
I almost quit the project when I heard about the lack of adoptions and the huge number of people harassing them. But, there was that one man.. that one man who drove an hour to get there... and he adopted two kittens. He got it. He understood and knew action speaks louder than words... so, whoever that man is.. he is why I continue to do this.