What happens when one drops an animal off at a pound? Picture this: a tearful child waving goodbye to his pet at the pound, distraught that he could not take care of it. As the animal walks down the corridor to meet its fate, whimpering cries bounce off the wall and a smell of dirt mixed with toxic moisture lingers in the air. It is at this moment, walking through this dank hall, that the animal knows. The animal panics, ears become flat, and its posture slackens. As it gazes upon that dark door into the unknown, it realizes that these halls might be the last thing that it will see in its short life. Animals, like people, can sense when death is near.
The Humane Society has to put down three to four million animals each year due to overpopulation in the shelters. Animals have to be euthanized, not because they are vicious or dangerous, but because a previous owner failed to take care of them properly.
There are a number of no-kill animal shelters scattered across the United States. Not only do these shelters spay and neuter animals to solve the problem of euthanasia, but they also give animals a second chance. No-kill shelters care for animals that have been neglected or abused and send them to new homes. However, no-kill shelters cannot always take animals in because they do not have enough workers to care for the amount of animals that enter the shelter. This is where volunteering comes in. Volunteers are the reason every animal has new hope for a future loving home.
How can volunteering change the life of volunteers and the animals' life as well?
Vanessa Lhanes, the front desk attendant at Sun Valley Animal Shelter, explained, “You get to be around animals all day. It is fun and you learn with the animals. Sometimes if you’re having a bad day you can just go in the kitten room and lay down. Who wouldn’t feel better when they are surrounded by kittens?” In fact, upon interviewing people in the shelter, it seemed as if everyone had this same view. Half the workers, who started as volunteers, do not even clock in when they go in to work. “It is not about the money,” Lhanes says, “It is about the animals.”
Kurt Oleson, the current manager of Sun Valley Animal Shelter, started volunteering in 2008 and has been active in the shelter ever since. “You have to ask yourself, are you doing it for yourself or the animals? Either way, everyone gets something out of it. It is better than staying at home. It makes you feel good about yourself and you are making a difference in the animal’s lives at the same time," Oleson said. In fact, the shelter adopts about 700 animals per month.
Despite the massive number, the employees are actually very picky about what homes they send the animals to. That is also where the volunteers come in. They characterize the animals based on their personality and make it easier to find the best home for them. Plastered over the walls of the shelter are the colorful labels of perky dogs. One of a little black Chihuahua reads, “Jeff; Outgoing and playful: I was transferred from another shelter due to overcrowding. You may notice that I bark and act like a stud muffin, but that’s because I don’t know you. Once I know I can trust you, I’m a big love bug.”
Looking around at these signs that detail each dog’s unique personality, anyone can realize how much work goes into the shelter. No animal is left behind because the volunteers get to know them and give them the attention that they need. Every time Oleson spoke, dogs all around the shelter were being walked, their gums pulled back with huge grins and floppy, pink tongues askew. As one of the dogs playfully nudged Oleson’s leg, he explained, “I couldn’t work in a shelter that euthanizes. If I see Fluffy or Tiger one day, I would not be able to handle not seeing them the next day.” He added, “It is a big family. Sometimes you don’t want to say bye to the animals, but you do it knowing you sent them to a good home.”
The Sun Valley Animal Shelter is just one of the no-kill shelters across America. According to the American Humane Association, “fifty-six percent of dogs and seventy-one percent of cats … are euthanized,” in a typical shelter. Oleson emphasized: “We are here to give the animals a forever home. We leave here every day knowing that we did that.”