Lost and Found

Amazon link Lost and Found: dogs cats and heroes by Elizabeth Hess
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Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats, and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter is a wonderful book. Elizabeth Hess, a New York City arts journalist and author of Nim Chimpsky, writes about volunteering at the Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter near Hudson, New York. She and her family were among the “weekenders” who travel between this rural area and the city. When her daughter wanted a dog, they found one at the shelter and Elizabeth found a world that she hadn’t known before. She volunteered and kept notes.

I’ve had this book for a while, but put off reading it. I thought I would cry too much. I did, and got angry, but not as often as I feared. That’s due to Ms. Hess’ writing. She is empathetic but analytic. She acts as a camera, showing us a whole picture from her perspective. She records events and puts them in a larger framework. She says what she thinks about it but lets us draw our own conclusions.

A box of kittens

One story stood out for me. A “week-ender” came into the shelter one hot summer day, saying he’d found kittens and couldn’t keep them. Elizabeth knew him from gallery events in New York City, so they chatted about new shows and gossip in the artsy crowd. Finally he remembered the kittens and said they were in a box in his car! But the heat inside a sturdy box with only “a few pencil-sized holes” had done its job. The kittens were already nearly dead. “While Fitzgerald was chatting with me… the cats were in his car baking.” She doesn’t need to say that clearly this urbane man didn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain (or bring kittens out of the sun) or that she felt guilt for not asking the cats’ whereabouts. Both things are there, between the lines.

rescue dog Max before and after picturesThe Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter was a county operation, and therefore responsible for cruelty investigations as well as taking in owner-surrendered animals and strays. It adopted animals out and, at the time, also euthanized.* It had animal quarters in the shelter and used foster homes and farms. Knowledgeable people committed to the well-being of animals staffed this shelter, fortunately.

Grim circumstances for heroes

Ms. Hess talks about puppy mills and describes a raid on one. She talks about euthanasia of animals for no reason other than homes have not been found for them. She takes us into the euthanasia room and introduces us to the people who do the killing.

A story from a euthanasia technician: just after euthanizing a young dog sick with pneumonia, she saw the young couple who had surrendered her. She overheard them excitedly talking about going to the pet store and what kind of puppy they would buy. They asked how their other dog was. “She’s such a good little dog.  You’ll have no trouble placing her.” The Columbia-Greene Animal Shelter, poster for Animal Art at 2012dog’s illness was curable, but this couple evidently didn’t want to be bothered, and the shelter was full. The “good little dog” had been killed.

You become engaged in the stories and you think long and hard about the issues. This book is neither fluffy animal tales nor a diatribe.  It’s a valuable ethnography of our society’s treatment and attitudes towards pets and those who clean up the mess. And, yes, it’s also about heroes.

*The shelter’s website states: “We do not euthanize animals for space constraints.” (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 13/12)


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0 thoughts on “Lost and Found”

  1. Would you review “Redemption” by Nathan Winograd?

    He’s coming to Toronto on April 14, 2012 for a special event on building no-kill communities.

    (Event will be hosted by ORA Animal Rescue, http://www.ora-animalsrescue.org/upcomingevents.html)

    “The world owes much to those rare individuals who see things differently – and who then devote themselves to vindicating their maverick conclusions.” – “The Bark” magazine

  2. I was probably too generous because I thought of my own story and how close I came to giving up on Toby. But you’re right: those people acted like changing their dog was no more difficult than taking back a pair of pants to a store and exchanging them for a pair they liked better. That’s no way to treat a living being.

  3. Wow, people are so strange. That throw away, and start over story really got me.

    But I understand: I almost did that myself. When I first got Toby, he was so difficult — he was a willful adolescent full of energy combined with strong fears of almost everything, from trucks and wheelbarrows to the sound of the dishwasher. He was so challenging that I wanted to give him back to the rescue guy I got him from. I was his 3rd home and I had just lost a beloved dog to old age, and Toby was nothing like Teddy, the old dog that I missed so much.

    Fortunately, for Toby, the rescue guy was having marriage problems, and wouldn’t take him back (he had said he would, if I had difficulty with the dog). At that point, I decided Toby had no future if I surrendered him to the SPCA.

    So I made a promise to my dog: I told him that I will do what it takes. What that amounted to was 8 months of private training with a gal who came to the house and taught me what to do and what not to do. That training still stands me in good stead (with people and dogs), and Toby has become a wonderful guy who wins the hearts of all who meet him.

    Sadly, he is now old too, and I love him dearly. I shudder to think of what would have happened if I hadn’t persisted with him — because I did, Toby has been lived the perfect country dog’s life, which was all he ever wanted.

    1. Hi Yvonne, you’re more generous toward those pup dumping-and-buying people than am I. But a difference between your situation with Toby and theirs is that you didn’t take him to a pound and they did. We don’t know why they did, but going shopping for a new one happyhappy the same day??!! Sometimes a different home is better for an animal. But in a situation like Toby’s, where he was bouncing from home to home, the problem was with him. If it wasn’t originally, then it would be created due to the unstableness of his life. You did the right thing in working with him and a trainer to get over those problems. Yes, it’s fortunate that the poor rescue man was having problems himself at the time. Ha, that sounds awful, doesn’t it! But even if that man had taken him back, somehow I can’t see you going out that same day looking for a replacement. I hope he’s doing ok – you’ve done good by him and he by you. Thanks for bringing up a different view of this. There are real problems that can happen, but as you found out there are also solutions. Time, training and patience does wonders!

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