I see death a lot in my profession. Every damn day, to be more specific. I see broken and beaten and yet still manage to not let it shake me very often. I remember coming home in my first weeks of internship, crying on the bathroom floor after all I had seen the day prior. I remember the first failure to thrive kitten dying in my arms before I could open the doors to the euthanasia room to help ease its pain. I remember feeling broken many times in my early days of work.
Now, not much breaks me. Yes, every loss is like a small stab to the gut. Yes, I lay in bed at night wondering if I made the right call. Yes, I still cry and feel defeated.
But not much breaks me.
That is, until something catches me off guard. Until something sneaks up on me when my emotions have been building up without my knowledge. Until something wrecks me to my core without even an ounce of warning.
Today I was reminded of something that will never not wreck me.
This something usually is stated as follows…
“We just don’t have the time”
“My husband is allergic”
“We are moving”
“We are having a baby”
“We can’t afford the medical bills”
“He just wasn’t what we expected”
Ahh, yes. The phrases we in the shelter world hear daily. The excuses people give as to why they are relinquishing their animal.
Now, let me start by saying, I get it. I promise you, I understand that things change. Shit happens and worlds are turned upside down. I know this first hand. I promise you I know that life is crazy and the dog you bought on a whim for your girlfriend may be too much for you to handle. Please, if you can’t handle it, let someone else who can give that creature the love it deserves.
But when I enter a kennel to vaccinate an eight month old dog who was given up on after being adopted from us as a puppy, only to leave in tears, that’s when I have a problem. That’s when I break.
Today was when I broke.
As I made my rounds updating everyone on their vaccinations, I came across him. I entered the kennel to find him lying there in a ball. He submissively wagged his tail and rolled on his side; closing his eyes in fear on my approach. I slowly knelt down and touched his sweet face. Once he knew I was not there to hurt him, he inched forward without ever getting up from his lying position and buried his head in between my legs. He continued to inch forward until I could only see his neck. He wanted to be as hidden from the world as possible. Just days ago, he was in a warm house with a family he loved. Now, he was back where he started surrounded by barking dogs and cage doors shutting. Even with a friendly staff to love on him and a blanket to separate him from the cement floor, this was not the life he knew.
I gritted my teeth and held back my tears as I vaccinated the traumatized boy. He didn’t budge once; frozen in fear. After, I let him sit with his head in my lap. His back legs shook uncontrollably. Never in my life had I felt that a dog was physically weeping more than this. We sat like this for quite some time. A laundry list of to-dos that I had to squeeze into my twelve hour day, but nothing else mattered in that moment. I hunched over with his head still in my lap, and tried to stabilize his vibrating body. I apologized for the world failing him so far, but promised that it would be okay soon.
We continued to sit there together until I felt he was even a little more comfortable.
I wiped my tears and felt immediate anger as I continued on in my day.
All I wanted to do was shake whoever returned him and say what I think of every day…
“Animals are not for your disposal”.
Animals are not a Christmas gift or something you buy just for fun. They are not an item or something for your pleasure. They are living, breathing, and feel in ways you most likely can’t wrap your head around. They will make mistakes, and not always understand what you want. They are not perfect, but neither are you.
I often advocate more for people not adopting than adopting when they aren’t sure.
Puppies grow up to be dogs, and dogs grow old to be riddled with health problems.
Cats are no different.
Now, I’m not saying that no one should adopt. Take it from the person who has spent her entire career caring for animals in shelters, we need adopters. What I’m saying is, adopt what you can handle. Adopt for your lifestyle
If you live in an apartment and work 40+ hours a week, maybe a herding dog isn’t for you. If you trail run twelve miles a day, maybe consider that same herding dog.
Adopt an animal that already fits your world, don’t try and mold them to fit the world you live in.
I get asked daily, “I don’t understand how you don’t take them all home”. Well, that just wouldn’t fit my lifestyle. I work 12 hour days and travel for work often. I have had the same shih tzu for a decade, and have recently acquired a couple of cats. Do I want an American Bulldog? More than you know. Do I have the time for an American bulldog? Absolutely not.
Animals are for life. Not your life, but theirs. When you adopt a puppy you are committing to loving it through it all. I’m taking about the thick and thin stuff. The unexpected stuff. The stuff not in your budget and the stuff you don’t want to deal with. The heartbreak kind of stuff.
When you adopt an animal, plan for the stuff. Think about now and ten years down the road. Think about it peeing on your rug as a puppy, and then again when it’s old and grey.
They don’t deserve to be shaking on shelter floors. They deserve the warm bed they were promised the first day they met you.
Through thick and thin, and all the stuff in between.
You be their forever hero, so we don’t have to.