When I first started volunteering at shelters I heard that the summer was the “busy season.” I was told that there were a lot of reasons for this: cats go into heat in the summer and kittens abound, people let their dogs roam free and they get pregnant, puppies pour in, the Fourth of July happens and dogs freak out and run away from home, families go on vacation and don’t have anywhere to put their animals, so they surrender them to the shelter. Wait – what? You don’t have anywhere to put your pet when you go on vacation so you surrender it? Excuse my language but, bitch, please. That’s the most.ridiculous.thing.I’ve.ever.heard. I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it.
The first time I saw this happen I was standing in the lobby of a local open access shelter. My camera was hanging around my neck, and sweat was causing the strap to rub painfully against my skin. It was a hot day in July and I’d been outside running around photographing dogs. I came inside to briefly cool off in the air conditioning and fill up my water bottle in the water fountain.
All thoughts of heat and editing and more animals that needed photographs disappeared when I saw a couple standing near the front desk with a terrified looking dog on a leash. I tried my best to smile weakly. Don’t judge, don’t judge. When I volunteered at an open access shelter I was always chanting that to myself through gritted teeth. The dog kept pulling at its collar, moving toward the door. Even nice, newly renovated shelters are noisy, terrifying places for animals, no matter how hard everyone tries to make it as accommodating as possible. You just can’t have that many animals in one place without it being scary and strange and new. This isn’t the couch, let’s go back to the car, this dog was saying.
As I walked by the couple I happened to hear the reason that they were surrendering their dog, “We got asked to go on a vacation, it’s last minute, and we don’t have anywhere to put him and the kennels are all booked.”
I stopped dead in my tracks and involuntarily spun toward them. One of the staff members shot me a look and my jaw snapped shut. She was right, of course. We are not to question or scare off the public, but – but what?
I filled up my water bottle and tried not to look at the terrified dog as I headed back outside.
Now I don’t know what happened after I left. I don’t honestly even know if they ended up surrendering that dog or not. I don’t know if there were other, deeper seated issues (I’m inclined to think there has to be – there has to be, right?) I have no idea if the dog had behavioral issues or it was new or they weren’t bonding or something more serious was going on in this couple’s life that they were too embarrassed to admit.
What I do know, is that this isn’t the first or only or last time that this has happened at an open access shelter and it absolutely has to stop.
Look, I like vacation. I just got back from Europe. I like to go to the beach and the mountains and the Caribbean and all those fun and interesting places, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss them when I couldn’t do those things because of Shelby and Panzer.
But Shelby and Panzer come first. Period, end of story. And now when Joe wants to go on vacation, I will go and babysit them for him, because they can’t be boarded, but if I couldn’t, Joe wouldn’t go. It’s a sacrifice we make to have dogs. And they pay us back for it by being our dogs.
Shelters are not boarding facilities. When you surrender a dog or a cat or a ferret or any animal to a shelter you’re not getting free lodging for a week, you’re putting that animal’s life on the line, especially this time of year. So please just don’t do it.