November 6 through 12 is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, so it is important we take time to stop and think about the services provided by the animal shelters in the community. On average, an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 animals are killed at Palm Beach County Animal Control every year. (Source: Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control). This number does not include those animals euthanized at private shelters such as Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League and Tri-County Humane, among others. With almost 30,000 animals being surrendered or brought to Animal Care and Control every year, the county needs the help of private shelters. It’s important that the all the entities in the county work together to help the animals who have been struck especially hard to due to people losing their jobs and their homes.
Dianne Sauve, Executive Director of Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control does her best to work with the rescue organizations in the community, of which there are hundreds. She appreciates and understands the hard work done by those working and volunteering in private rescue organizations. One such agency, Lady Luck Animal Rescue, recently praised PBC ACC in an email stating: “We love working with Palm Beach County. It is a very pleasant experience as compared to other shelters, the staff is awesome and the kennels are always clean.”
So take a moment to think about the tough work the staff and volunteers of all the rescue facilities in the county are doing and, if you can, volunteer a few hours yourself. Taking a shelter dog for a walk or to the local PetsMart on a Saturday afternoon so that he can get adopted is a rewarding experience for you and a life-altering experience for a lonely canine or feline who is counting down the days until someone comes along and places a big black X on their cage card, marking them for euthanasia. Helping out at your local shelter by walking dogs is one way to get active. There are so many more.
Fundraisers-offer to organize a fundraiser for your local shelter or rescue group. Don’t just call them with great ideas for fundraisers (they really hate when people do that), but actually put one on for them. It’s fun and easy and will bring you into contact with lots of other animal people so that you can form alliances and build support groups. That way, when you host the Great American Meat Out or Light the Night for Leukemia in your home town, you will already have a mailing list. A fundraiser can be anything from throwing a party and charging a fee to organizing a rummage sale, bake sale or car wash. The money raised could be earmarked for spay/neuter efforts, humane education or a fund for animals needing medical care. Press releases are a cinch to write and send out to get the media involved.
Breed Rescue-Find the local breed rescue groups in your state and offer to help with fostering, transport or adoption. If you’re an animal rights activist, know that most breed rescue groups comprise dog breeders so you need to steel yourself for the inevitable differences of opinion; but concentrate on the common ground. Animal rights advocates like breed rescue groups because it keeps people out of pet stores and that helps cut down on the puppy mill profits. Some people want certain breeds and no matter how much we educate people as to the value and wonder of mixed-breed dogs, only a purebred will do. We ask them not to go to breeders and petstores. The purebred dogs in shelters (about 33% of all the shelter dogs) usually have insurmountable problems because they came from a puppy mill in the first place. Breed rescue is a viable alternative and one that we can all live with. Do you have an affinity for Afghans? A passion for poodles or can’t live another day without a Bichon Frise’? There is someone nearby who likes them too and wants to help them find homes. If you are the local “animal lover” and people are always asking you where they can get a specific breed, it would be helpful if you know ahead of time who in your community is working with Breed Rescue. And there are national organizations that need your help too. Ten years ago I started helping to transport Siamese cats from shelters to foster homes or adoptive homes. Some Siamese cats needed to make their way from Florida to Virginia or places west. Not wanting to trust these little beauties to an airline (for good reason), a group called Siamese Rescue out of Virginia started a little effort called the Meezer Express. They recruited foster homes all over the country and now have a great little effort going on to help Siamese cats find new homes. The older ones that are so much harder to place go to Meezer Geezer homes. I also foster for Siamese Rescue and my first foster cat, Tristan, found a loving home with one of my in-laws who has since adopted a second rescue siamese and is properly spoiling them. I have made lots of wonderful friends through my efforts to help Siamese cats in memory of my sweet, sweet Sable, a lovely Siamese that I adopted from a shelter in Germany and who lived for over twenty years. (For information or to volunteer to help Siamese Rescue go to www.SiameseRescue.org). If you want to get involved with one of the canine breed rescue groups, just use the keyword for your special breed to find one that does rescue.
Foster/Transport-Some rescue groups, especially the ones that have no facility, are in need of volunteers to help get animals to the vet, the groomer or from the shelter or pound to a foster home. If you have an extra bedroom or can accommodate another critter for a short time, consider offering your services as a foster parent. The rescue organization usually picks up the costs of vet care, food or any other expenses so you don’t need to worry about your own budget.
Neonatal care-The jury is still out on whether it is a good idea to attempt to raise puppies and kittens who become orphaned. Some vets feel that because they lack their parents they cannot become well socialized and suffer from immune disorders. My own cat was orphaned at two days old when his mom was killed by a dog. But I raised him with KMR (kitten milk replacement) and he survived. He lived for 13 years as the cat from hell and suffered from a variety of expensive and painful autoimmune disorders. But if you believe in giving all living things a second chance and that the vets are not always right, you may want to offer your services as a neonatal caregiver. Call your local shelter and let them know you are willing to take in a puppy or kitten and feed him or her for about eight weeks until he or she is healthy enough to be put up for adoption. If you are really adventurous, get connected with a local wildlife rehabilitator and help out with injured or orphaned wild animals too. Busch Wildlife Sanctuary is one such rehabilitation facility that welcomes volunteers.
Education-If you like to speak out for animals you may want to offer your services as a public speaker, humane educator or newsletter writer for your local rescue group. A lot of humane societies or rescue groups are always looking for people to help with website services. If you have some animal-related expertise—share! This could be as simple as visiting the Peta website and ordering a free copy of the Share the World video and asking teachers if you can show it during after-school programs or even during study periods, or as complicated as offering to be the editor of a weekly e-blast from a rescue group.
Wildlife Rehabilitation-The world is full of people who STILL believe that if you touch a baby bird you will get human cooties on it and the mom won’t raise it. Newsflash! Birds cannot smell! Not very well at least. If you have a wildlife rehabber nearby and like to walk on the wild side, go volunteer to educate the public about wildlife issues, stay on top of pending wildlife legislation and help out in the clinic or driving the van once in a while. Be sure that you are helping an actual sanctuary and not a roadside zoo or entertainment enterprise (but if you do get involved with one of those accidentally, Peta will be happy to hook you up with a video camera and be your new best friend.)
Get active! There’s so much work to be done and the rewards are endless. I get e-mails and phone calls from people all the time who complain that they feel lonely because all they do is send money to the big nationals but they never get to actually do anything. This is your chance to get active. Celebrate National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week (November 6-12) by helping out a shelter or rescue in your community.