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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Distemper, anger, and why the hell this is so hard

I make art about animal shelter animals. I know when I go in to the shelter, that the photos I take of the dog and cats may very well be the last image of them to ever show that they ever existed. I chose a subject matter that is one of the hardest things I could have ever chosen. Some people paint beautiful paintings of flowers- I make art about animals that are most likely going to die.

When I go in in the shelter, I take hundreds of pictures in hopes that I get a good few ones. Then, I go home and try to quickly go through the massive numbers of photos - edit them and post them online. I figure that since I have chosen the subject matter of shelter dogs/cats for my art- I have an obligation to use those photos to attempt to help them... the art used to come first, until I got on Facebook and discovered the cross posters and rescue groups... the images were always about a memory- now, they can act as that- but, they can also work as a tool to save a life. Sometimes I find that people respond very strongly to an image I post.. and it helps to find them a home or a safe place in a no kill rescue. Those photos will not go on to serve as memories of the dogs/cats- they will serve as victories. To be able to use my work to help those who I photograph is something that makes the heavy subject matter bearable to me.

At the shelter I began in I photographed the euthanasia. I remember the dogs well. I remember how much I really loved one of them, but I could not stop it... I could only use my camera to capture it .. to show the world how wrong we are for what we do. That day was hard, but I went in knowing what the outcome would be .. I knew there was no hope, I was able to take a deep breath and do my job.. I knew that what was happening was not due to my own actions- I was simply an observer. When I got home that night, friends wanted me to go out .. I didn't want to.. I went and climbed in bed and thought about what I saw.. it was bad.. I stayed in bed for a long time.

But now, I have hope when I take the photos. I am not able to go to the shelter as often as I would like, but when I do, I post what I can. There is at least a hope that what I am doing might, in some small part, help change the outcome. For the first time in this work, I feel like something I do can make a change.. no matter how small.. and infrequent.. my actions can affect what happens to them. So over the last week or so, I have had the opportunity to help make changes. I have had to drive to Miami 3 times in that short period and I have been able to take hundreds more pictures than I have before. I have been able to go back in after taking a photo of a dog- or cat and be able to try again.. take a better photo. I have been able to see dogs that were scared of me the first visit- now come up to their kennel door and say hello. I have been able to watch as the photos I posted have been shared on Facebook and have had reactions and actions ....and I have been able to follow the stories of some of them who have been saved. It had all left me wishing I were closer.. and able to go much more often.

Today though, I took a huge hit. The shelter has a distemper outbreak. If you are unfamiliar with distemper, it is a pretty horrific and contagious disease and can leave those that survive with lasting issues. Although the disease is horrific, the most horrific thing about it is that there is a vaccine- and if people had only vaccinated their dogs- there would be no outbreak. The shelter can vaccinate every dog that comes through their door- but, it takes time to work.. and all it takes is one irresponsible person to dump their sick, unvaccinated pet there.

So now, I have no idea if the dogs I have posted and seen so many people working so hard to save.. will make it out. Already, there were 18 dogs euthanized because of it.. the shelter is closed down for owner surrenders and adopters while they work to contain it. I know there were dogs there that were set to be saved today, but now.. are in quarantine.. if they survive the outbreak- they have a safe place to go.. but, will they survive? I don't know.

What is killing me the most.. what is just killing me.. is that there were two dogs that I had posted pictures of online.. I wanted so badly for them to be seen.. they are named Snow and Flakes and were in the west wing of the shelter- an area so much less traveled by potential adopters and not as easy a place to find for those unfamiliar with the shelter. So, when I saw them.. I wanted to try and help them. They reminded me of some dogs that I had met in the TN shelter years ago who had come from a hoarder.. and the minute I saw them they really just got to me. I took several photos of them.. but, it was the worst time of day.. the sun was going down and when I got home, I was not happy with my work- but I worked with what I had.. and I posted their pictures and crossed my fingers and hoped. After posting them, I read that they had been abused and that one had an imbedded collar.. it just made me want them to be saved just that much more. People responded.. they saw the photos-- they had learned about their history from other people working them online.. and then the dogs got sick.. they got a URI.. a cold.. and people worked harder and harder to share them online and just as I thought they would be euthanized it appeared that there were people who were actually going to save them. What is killing me about this that I was at the shelter yesterday.. and they had the driver who was supposed to pick them up yesterday .. and they were not able to do it.. if I had only known.. if I had known.. I was right there.. I could have got them... and today, they are in quarantine with over 200 others and I have no idea if they will make it out.

 This outbreak never should have happened. It happens in shelters all over the country from time to time. The most horrible thing about it all is that it was totally preventable. All dogs should be vaccinated and the person or people who failed to do so are the cause of the dogs dying. Was it the person who let their dog run in the streets to be picked up? Was it the person who let their dog breed and then dumped her and her multiple puppies there? Was it the person who decided that their dog was too old so they dumped it at a  shelter that has so few adopters that more dogs end up dying than being adopted each year? Who was the irresponsible person that not only failed their own pet by allowing it to end up at the shelter, but also caused not only their own dogs death but the deaths of many others? Who was it that cared so little that they didn't take the time to get a simple vaccine? Who the hell was it that is causing the deaths of the dogs that I wanted to badly to help save? I honestly am more disgusted by the actions of this person than I am of the day I watched the euthanasia.

All of the pictures on this post are dogs that I photographed on my last visit. Will they survive? I do not know.. I don't. I should be excited now.. I have a show coming up.. and this was probably the last visit I was going to make before the show.. now I am completely heartbroken.. completely.. because when I have that show I won't be able to tell so many stories of how the sad dog behind bars in the photo found a wonderful home.. no, I will have to tell them that the sad dog behind the bars died.. because someone didn't bother to vaccinate their dog. 


Berkeley said...

I'm praying. What you do makes a difference. It dies. No one could have predicted this. We need to help anyway we can. We need to raise awareness and push the shelter for better quarantine areas. This is to be our focus now. Let's find homes AND save lives Mary.

Berkeley said...

Noooo. It DOES. not dies. Stupid phone.