Years ago, I went to the London Humane Society with a friend. While she looked for a cat, I stayed at the front desk. I was horrified – justifiably or not, I don’t know. It was my first time in an animal shelter. A man came in with a box of kittens he wanted to leave. The attendant started processing them, and I said “I’ll take them.” The attendant said “ok”, and the box of kittens never even crossed the reception counter. I found homes for them all. When I had learned more about animal rescue and the operation of shelters, I was amazed that I was allowed to take those kittens with no questions asked.
Later in St. John’s, my boyfriend and I found two beagles on a woods trail. The male’s footpads were torn and bleeding. He led us to the female, lying in a little nest by a tree. She’d recently had pups. We searched everywhere but found no pups. The dogs willingly came with us, although we soon had to carry them. Both were too weak and sore to walk. My partner said “I hope the SPCA is still open”. “No,” I cried, “not The Pound!” I cried until my eyes were puffy, all the way to the SPCA. But he was adamant: we were not taking them home. I did extract a promise that we would take them if they were going to be euthanized.
Only the SPCA Director was there, with her kids, doing after-hours paperwork. After a quick look, she said to her son “get soft food and water and put blankets in that big cage.” To her daughter, “take this little girl and get her settled in.” Debbie cleaned the male’s bloody paws. “Poor dog, must have run miles.” She figured he’d been looking for food and help. By now, I was blubbering with gratitude over how nice she was, how nice the place was. She said, “Don’t worry, dear, we’ll take good care of them.” Their owner did find them. They were hunting dogs and had got lost while after rabbits. There were indeed pups, but they were weaned. The dogs returned home.
I began volunteering at the SPCA. A new shelter was built during my time there. The old one really was in bad condition. The animals never lacked for anything, but the building was small and drafty. The new one had several cat rooms so cats didn’t have to be caged. Dog rooms had easy access to outdoor runs. It was a ‘kill’ shelter, so there was trepidation when, on entering rooms, you saw a dog or cat wasn’t there. Check the log book and cross your fingers you see ‘adopted’ beside their name. But it didn’t always say that.
I went to the St. John’s City pound once on SPCA business. I’d been there once before and it was horrible. Rows of cages along the walls of one room, dogs on one side, cats on the other. Barking, yelping, meowing, hissing. I dreaded this revisit and hoped I wouldn’t have to see beyond the front desk. I was surprised to hear only music coming from the back, no overpowering smells. The manager came out and we recognized each other. She had been an SPCA volunteer. “Let me show you what we’ve done,” she said. Heart in my throat, I followed her to the back. The dogs had large pens in the big main room with easy access to outdoor runs. A separate large room with lots of windows housed the cats. There were cages, but most of the cats were loose. There were toys and beds, climbing trees and nooks with blankets. There were separate rooms where animals could be quarantined. The manager was proud of what she had done in a short period of time with little money and no major construction work. “I just used what I’d learned at the SPCA and reorganized the space.” Animals were kept at the pound only for a limited number of days and there was no provision for going to the SPCA or other shelter. But she ensured that their time at the pound, whether a brief stay before they were claimed or adopted or their last days on earth, was as pleasant as she could make it.
In St. Thomas, the practice has long been that animals at the pound go to one of the rescue groups when their time is up. I’ve never been to the City’s Animal Control shelter but I have volunteered with local rescue groups. All our groups are “no kill”, a laudable idea. But the rescue groups and pound are limited in the numbers they can handle, and unwanted animals just keep coming. Then what happens?
There have been changes in theory and practice in shelters and pounds over the past few decades. ‘Cage’ versus ‘no cage’, ‘kill’ or ‘no-kill’ and, with feral cats, ‘trap-neuter-tame’ or ‘trap-neuter-release’ are important issues to think about.
An important, and easy, thing for shelter staff to think about and do is treat the animals as if they were your own. These are living creatures whose whole world has been turned upside down. They may be well-loved pets who got lost and are frightened. They may be victims of “changed circumstances” in their household, now facing life without their familiar places and people. They may be abused animals who have learned not to trust people. They may be paupers used to foraging for scraps or pampered princesses. Either way, a room full of cages and other animals is going to be very frightening. The St. John’s City pound manager knew that and acted accordingly. She knew she was responsible for lives. That’s the most important thing animal control officers should remember. The city animal shelter is not the same as the car impound lot.
No animals were harmed in the making of this post. Photos are our dog and kitten when they first came to us. The kitten was feral, the dog was on death row at a pound. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 6/10)