It’s National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, so I thought I’d share an older piece I wrote years ago for StubbyDog (originally published Oct. 2011) called Everyday Heroes: Shelter Workers.
They stand at the doorway each morning and take a deep breath. The dogs, recognizing that they’re no longer alone, have erupted in a cacophony of demands for food, bathroom breaks, attention.
Overwhelmed by the noise, hearts pounding, trying to pick a direction to go in first, they say, “I’m coming just as fast as I can everybody. I love you all this morning.”
And then they start running.
They weave through the chaos: an injured dog, the hysterical family of a missing elderly cat, an animal control officer with a van full of strays, new volunteers who need training, making a call to an adopter that didn’t show to pick up their new dog, setting up a safe kennel for a victim of cruelty in desperate need of medical care.
There are more dogs than there are kennels.
There are adopters to meet with, kennel cough to be treated, biographies to write, veterinarians and trainers to consult with, surgeries to find funding for, rescue groups to reach out to, social media trolls to quiet, documentation of cruelty cases to complete, baths to be given, and hard, painful choices to be made.
The daily work continues: Kennels must be scrubbed, food delivered, medications carefully administered, evaluations to be completed, kennel charts filled out, yards to be cleaned.
There are 24 hours in a day and 100+ hours of work to be done.
They feel tiny in the presence of this mountain of work and the countless souls they’ve been trusted to care for. How fast can they work, for how long, and will it make a difference?
But just when they feel like they’re slipping under water, it happens: one great day.
A long-term resident finally gets adopted, a local business stops by with a donation of a new washing machine, the dogs they feared wouldn’t make it find foster homes, a child’s birthday party brings toys and treats, an adopter calls to tell you how happy they are with their new cat, a volunteer brings coffee and hugs.
They are flying on the wings of this good day, fueled by the hope that there will be more just like it. Powering into another work week, trusting that, if they keep their heads up and their feet moving forward, it will be okay.
They are a vital part of our community. The safety net for our pets. The beating heart deep in our collective hope for a better world for our animals.
They are the magicians, the master jugglers, the contortionists, working endlessly to pull one more miracle out of their bag of tricks. One more life saved by their weary hands. They are the underpaid, overworked operators working the lines until there is a happy ending.
They are doing the work most of us could never bring ourselves to do. We depend on them to care for the animals in our families and communities. We demand more and more from them and they show up for the challenge. They are willing to take the heartbreak, the lost lives, the failures, the sadness and exhaustion. Because they know the animals can’t make it without them.
They are our determined hands, our compassionate hearts, and they need our support.
They are shelter workers and they’re everyday heroes. Be sure to thank them for their service.
p.s. I think volunteers and foster families are the bomb too and wrote tributes to them back in 2011. You can find them here and here.