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Pet Questions From You!

You asked, I answered! Some frequently asked questions I get about working at an animal shelter.

I’m really grateful to have this Patch blog available as an outlet to provide further information on responsible pet ownership, animal welfare, and a shelter environment. I’ve gotten great feedback from you all on possible topics for future blogs, and wanted to take this next post as an opportunity to answer some of the frequently asked questions I get asked from this blog (and at work as well!).

 1. How do you not just fall in love with every single dog/cat at the shelter you work at?!

I fall in love on daily basis! I’m a huge animal lover, and feel very strongly about the work I do, so it’s impossible not to.  In fact, Rylee became part of our family just a few days shy of my first month of employment! I wish I could take them all home, honestly, but I know that I can't. So I do the next best thing- work on finding amazing forever homes for them. Sometimes they stay in the shelter longer than I’d like, but I remind myself that it is way better that the animals are in a shelter than some of the drearier alternatives.

2. How do you deal with situations in which an animal is euthanized?

This is a very hard question. I am not part of the vet staff, so I am not usually involved in a medical procedure such as euthanasia, but I am aware of when they happen. Even though our shelter only euthanizes in cases of aggression or untreatable illness, it is still a very emotional topic for me. When families bring their pet in to be euthanized because of old age, or a life-threatening illness such as cancer, I find myself crying right along with them.  I do not think the sobering realization of an animal being put to sleep will ever completely go away for me. I know that they are better off not in pain or suffering, and that helps in part. But it never feels easy.

3. What is something that you didn’t know about shelters before you worked in one?

A lot of things! For one, I didn’t understand the proper definition of ‘no kill’. I also didn’t know that every shelter isn’t open admission, like the Oakland Pet Adoption Center ( I just assumed they all were!). As a pet owner, one major thing that I didn’t know was that every dog is required to have an Oakland County Dog License (whoops!). I quickly remedied that though- don’t want to be delinquent!

 4.What would you tell anyone wanting to work in a shelter environment?

When I first was hired, I was told of the Starfish Story:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. 

Approaching the boy, he asked, 'what are you doing?'

The youth replied, 'throwing starfish back into the ocean. 
The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.' 'Son' the man said, 'don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!'

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said
'I made a difference for that one.'

Working in a shelter environment is hard. You will see animals that you want to save and won’t be able to. The hurt that these animals feel will transfer onto you. It can be stressful and emotionally devastating.

At the same time, one of the most rewarding things you can feel is the love of new family adopting their pet from your shelter; the justice brought to fruition for a cruelty case; the selfless love every single animal will give to anyone who will let them. 

Between the blood, sweat and tears, you’ll find that working in a shelter is one of the most memorable experiences you could ever have.  And every single one that you can make a difference for will attest to that.

If you ever have questions for me, feel free to post them on here or contact me directly on my Patch account!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Alexis Shull April 22, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Thank you for your feedback, Carrie. Appreciate you reading!
Diane Higgins April 23, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I think most people would be surprised by how positively emotional it can be, and not a sad, negative thing. Your perception of what the shelter will be like, and how it really is are probably 2 different things. The dogs are healthy, in clean cages and are generally happy. Of course, nothing beats a good home for them. When you take them out for a walk, they are very happy to go out, and when it is time to bring them back in, they lead you right to their cages, hop right back in and wag their tails. You might think you'd have to drag them back in and force them back into their cages while they bark and cry for you to take them home, but that isn't the case. They do adapt to their stay there, and maybe because they know they will get out on a regular basis, they stay well-adjusted. The more people interactions they have, the healthier they are, and the more appealing to adopters they become. It is a very happy feeling when the dogs get to know you and you can sit outside with them, and they sit right next to you and let you hug on them. Please do try it one day, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. And the dogs will truly love it.
David Michael April 23, 2012 at 12:21 PM
My wife and I are interested in volunteering at a shelter. We have never done anything like that before so I was very interested to read your blog. I was left wanting. I would have liked you to have continued to explain what you learned regarding no-kill and open admission shelters, as I have never heard these terms before. I hope that you can tackle these topics in the future.
Alexis Shull April 23, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Great suggestions, David! Thank you for your contribution. I would love to touch more on what those terms mean and provide more information on them. I will be sure to include them in a near-future post!
Deanna Caldwell April 24, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Thanks Diane. Sounds very positive for the animals and the volunteers as well. That's a huge relief! Deanna

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