I had a post planned today that got derailed by my own actions over the weekend. I was going to publish an article I have been working on which expresses my frustration with the No Kill Equation and the seemingly endless stream of animals pouring into our shelter system.
All of my accusations and pent-up frustration were there. I wanted to know where all the adopters are. I wanted to know who lied to Nathan Winograd and where these alleged 23 million potential adopters are. I was tired, angry and feeling like the whole thing was pointless, just pointless. I could see the future, but only barely past the present. A future without the euthanasia of adoptable animals seemed hard to grasp, all I felt like I could do was trudge through the quagmire of daily posts, begging for help. The shelters are begging for rescues, the rescues are begging for fosters and animals are dying, every day.
I wanted to vent on this space, scream about it, cry about it, throw a temper tantrum and ball up my fists and hit the desk and yell out into cyber space about how everyone and everything in the universe sucks. I don’t know why, but I was feeling burnout…again.
But that post will never make it public on this blog, and here’s why: I have no one to blame about not finding enough adopters except myself.
On Saturday I was visiting a local farmer’s market with a friend. It was a nice afternoon, and I had set out to enjoy myself, to escape from the desperate and urgent dogs on Facebook. My phone was in my car. I wasn’t going to let anything get me down. I wasn’t going to think about anything rescue related, because I knew I had a hard task set for me on Sunday. On Sunday, I was going into PSPCA to photograph two at risk dogs and a series of long-timers, dogs who had been in the shelter for years, who I’d photographed before, whose photos needed updated. I was forcing myself to go more than looking forward to it.
But Saturday was to put all of that out of my mind for a few blissful hours. And I was. I was having a lovely time until I walked past a little pet shop set up in this farmer’s market with several cute puppies in the window.
Everyone else walking by oohed and awwed. Children pressed their chubby faces against the glass and the puppies ran from one side of the small enclosure to the other, at least, a couple of the puppies did. I stopped and watched. The “pens” if you want to call them that, were hot, stuffy boxes that were much, much too small for the animals inside. The bottom of the kennels were covered in cedar chips and the dogs were filthy. The collie puppy looked like it had feces matted to its rear end.
I scoffed and glared and huffed to my friend about puppy mill dogs and was about to walk away when I saw a woman walk inside with her daughter clutching her hand. The daughter was bouncing exuberantly, her pony tail bobbing from side to side as she skipped next to her mother, who was glowing, absolutely glowing. I stayed where I was, watching, someone even grumbled at me to not stand in the middle of the walkway, but my eyes were fixed on the scene. It was idyllic except for the fact that I knew these puppies were mill dogs.
Smokey flashed into my mind, his missing ear, his aversion to kennels, his great big stupid tongue with the black spot on it. I thought about the images I’d seen of mills, overcrowded, filthy things with dogs that looked broken. I thought about the Amish that weren’t that far away and how just one “kennel” owner executed 80 dogs out back when he was cited for poor kennel conditions. Rather than fix the kennel, he shut it down – and shot the dogs that once “lived” there.
While all these things raced through my mind, the woman approached the collie puppy with her daughter. She waved for one of the employees at the store to come over. My palms began to sweat and a lump formed in my throat. I reached for my phone. I was going to bring it in there and show her how Petfinder worked, scroll through for pictures of cute dogs waiting for forever at PSPCA, ACCT, Chester County, Delco, Lancaster, anywhere but there. When I came up empty, I glanced back at the mother and daughter and walked away.
Because I was scared, I failed to be an advocate, something I constantly preach out. Because I was afraid to speak to a stranger, I didn’t even try to convert that woman or make a positive impression on her daughter. Because I was a coward, I cannot beg to know where our adopters are. One was right there.
Maybe I should note here that I’m not a very outgoing person. Actually, I’m far from outgoing. I get panicked in social situations, which is why I used to drink too much when I was forced into them and why I now take medication for anxiety when I’m in large crowds. Maybe I wasn’t socialized properly and maybe that’s why I have an affinity for animals who also get nervous in social situations. Stranger danger is as real for me as it is for Shelby.
But I’m not a dog, and I have a brain that I can use to rationalize, and should have used, in this situation. I should have sucked it up and conquered my fear, walked into that pet shop and pointed that woman in the direction of a local shelter. She might not have listened, but at least I wouldn’t be beating myself up about it two days later. At least I could have said I tried. At least I could have done anything except be a coward and walk away.
We in the animal welfare world spend so much time dealing with these issues on a day-to-day basis that we become disconnected with the public. It seems almost impossible to us to think that the general public doesn’t know about puppy mills and where these pet store dogs are coming from. There is a way to go about educating people without preaching. That would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. I could have easily walked in that store and introduced myself to that woman and her daughter. I could have told her I’m a professional photographer, and I do pro bono work for shelters and that all the local shelters are packed to the brim with dogs right now. I could have said to her that I’m the proud parent of rescued animals, and I have a puppy from a breeder and both are alternatives to purchasing a dog from a petstore. I could have said that she could get a puppy at a much cheaper rate from a shelter or a rescue and did she know that there are dozens of them around?
But I didn’t and there’s nothing I can do to make up for it except to share my experience and remind everyone that we need to be positive advocates all the time and remember that what we know not everyone does. We need to share knowledge when we see the opportunities, no matter how scared we might be.