Eight Ways YOU Can Save Dogs & Cats Lives
I wanted to write a little something up today. Apparently, by reading occasional posts on social media there are still a lot of people who believe that city shelters are horrific places, where all animals that are brought there end up being put down. And before I started volunteering at North Central on Lacy Street in Los Angeles, I too had preconceived notions about the shelter system, and would have never imagined I’d be writing something like this a couple years later. Of course I knew city shelters existed, but I never could have imagined volunteering at a place that euthanized animals. However, with the encouragement of a friend who already was volunteering there, I decided at least going to an initial orientation.
I won’t lie, it was frustrating at first, being required to go through the training, and wait for certain classes to be offered as I felt I already had a plethora of dog walking and animal experience: having had animals growing up, and having had volunteered at the Los Angeles Zoo, and with the Amanda Foundation in Beverly Hills. I also wasn’t thrilled about, nor did I agree with all the city’s policies and rules… and I didn’t love every member of the public that came into the shelter, and not every staff member rubbed me the right way.
After a short time I realized the importance of training from the ground up once again, and the reasoning behind most of the rules. I discovered the staff members I enjoyed and trusted, and I learned how best to navigate policies and the public at large. And since I’ve started I have come to realize that volunteering for a city shelter is in a lot of ways like volunteering on the front lines… Where as rescues and private shelters are able to handpick the animals they get in, city and county shelters must take every animal brought in.
In the time I’ve been at North Central I’ve seen pigs, chickens, parakeets, geese, ducks, dogs, cats, bunnies, snakes, sheep, gerbils, turtles, rats, mice, hamsters, a horse, and a pony all come into the shelter. Some lost, some found, some hit by cars, some involved in incidents and disputes, some part of investigations, some abused, some tortured, some neglected, some illegally bred and sold, some un-socialized, and many surrendered by owners because of bad training, bad habits, or just because they’ve gotten “too old.” I’ve seen the best in humans and I’ve seen the worst.
Different animals can have vastly different reactions when entering the shelter system, and I’ve seen gradients and combinations of all of them. I don’t know how they may officially be labeled, but below is how I’ll describe them. And since I mostly volunteer walking, socializing, and showing larger dogs, I’ll write mostly about them.
While I’ve never been incarcerated (spent time in jail or prison), I’d imagine most humans would react in many of the same ways as dogs if they were thrown into the shelter system. And I’ve actually often attempted to equivocate what the experience possibly feels like to dogs by saying… “Imagine you were tossed into a concrete and iron cell for no reason, in a place that no one speaks your language. Strangers put ropes around your neck and drag you to places you don’t necessarily want to go. Other strangers handle and touch you (medical intake exam) and possibly inject you with vaccines or treatments. Every one of your species around you is also in cages, and actively shouting (barking). You don’t know or trust anyone. Everyone you’ve ever known has either given up on you, or at best, is someplace else, looking for you. Now… How would you react?”
- RETREAT/HIDE…get as small as possible, avoid all interaction. Maybe you shake with fear. Freeze up. Shut down.
- RETREAT & DEFEND…like retreat and hide, but at some point instead of continuing to shrink, maybe you start to growl, snarl, bark, snap…
- PROTECT/PROTEST…instead of hiding, possibly you’re proactive with your “leave me alone”/”back the F off” messaging. Maybe you hang back and puff yourself out, or charge the gate if anyone gets close, or possibly you stand right at the front of your cage and let everyone know to stay away.
- JUST ANOTHER DAY…maybe you just don’t have the fight or flight response in this particular circumstance, or you’ve been in lock up before. Maybe you’re calm in the kennel, patiently waiting for your lawyer/people to come get you.
- PICK ME…maybe this is “I didn’t do it,” “I’m innocent,” “Let me out,” or “I want my phone call!” However, when it comes to dogs, this may be the most confusing for many volunteers and members of the public. Some of the “pick me” type behavior may get read as “Protect/Protest,” “crazy,” “aggressive,” or “high-energy.” An individual dog that might be jumping up and down, barking, picking up and dropping his or her food bowl, or running around in circles… might just be doing it to get someone’s attention… “Pick me,” “Feed me,” “I got to pee,” “Get me out of the hell out of here!”
With enough time and patience, many animals are able to have their behavior adjusted and for a large part of that, that’s where key volunteers and dedicated staff members come in.
This past weekend, after being in the shelter system for over a year, Canela finally found her “furever” family. If you want to see some of her transition in pictures/video do a search for her former ID number on Instagram or Facebook (#A1755965). However, from what I gathered, her owner had died and the estate forfeited Canela over to the city for whatever reasons. For several weeks she made herself so small in her kennel that many were unaware she was in there. She was terrified. Because part of what I like to do at the shelter is work with terrified dogs, I decided to give her a long look and access her.
What I saw was a sweet dog that was shut down. It took a number of us a good number of weeks to gain her trust. When I’d put a leash on her, she’d freeze up, and with the kennel door literally wide open she stand there, like an anchor.
As I wrote earlier, this weekend she went home. It took several of us, many hours of patience and trust building. It took unofficial volunteers outside the shelter system, many forwards and reposts. It took rescue volunteers many hours of networking… But finally she met her new family. They accepted her as the “funny monkey” she was. Even though Canela had come a long way, she wasn’t shiny and new, she was a six-year-old pup with some quirky ticks.
Well, since we’ve said so long to Canela, I have seen a number of pictures of her, and in every single one of them, she is beaming with a smile. She has adjusted amazingly well to her new family.
Two weekends ago we got an update on another dog, Storm, (formerly #a1726523) a low rider pity-mix. Storm had been fostered several weeks later, and Storm and her foster dad came in to the shelter to touch base. Initially, when Storm first entered the shelter system, she was a Protect/Protest dog that had all sorts of warning labels put on her kennel card. She’d rush the gate and bark and growl furiously. Again, however, over time, with the help of key staff & volunteers, her behavior changed. Storm had become a love bug that just wanted to cuddle and lick faces. Well, that same day we all got an in person update on Storm was the same day that her foster dad had brought her in to officially adopt her, AND the same day he showed us pictures of Storm peacefully hanging out with his CAT! *
* Know that the process of introducing dogs and cats, or two animals is a very individual process. They may have very different reactions on different days in differing circumstances… ALWAYS, ALWAYS, protect your pets, introduce over a long period of time, supervise, and never forget that they are animals, with their own communication, play styles, instincts and minds.
A few weeks ago, after living over 18 months inside a concrete kennel, a big, gray pity-mix named Holyfield (formerly #A1712338) went home with his new family. At the shelter I would have classified him as a “Pick Me” doggie, barking and circling in his kennel. Where some quickly people ruled him out because he was the wrong size, bred, or gender, others passed on him because he was too “aggressive,” “scary,” “loud,” “energetic,” when the truth was he simply frustrated that he wasn’t getting out more, and he wanted to play.
A few weeks before that, Jack (#A1244464), an old GSD mix who was part of a humane case, and taken from his owners after being mistreated and neglected. At our shelter he slowly learned to trust and love humans again. A few months after we started working with him, like many other great and lucky dogs, Jack hit the lottery, and he right people met him, and went home. Last I picture I saw of Jack was him chilling in the very beautiful family home, on a cushy dog bed, by a nice warm fireplace.
Duke (#A1826067), while he’s still at the shelter, thankfully, yesterday, after five months of building trust with him, I finally got a leash on him with minimal protest (Hide & Defend) and we spent over an hour together hanging out in the yard! Again video is posted on Instagram and Facebook. Some of my favorite Velcro dogs that are still at the shelter along with Duke started out as Hide & Defend behavior type dogs when they first entered the system… look up Lady (#A1826977) and Brownie (#A182697).
Since I’ve started at North Central, hundreds if not thousands of animals have entered our facility alone, thankfully we have more volunteers, and instead of dogs getting out once every four to six weeks for walks, like it was when I started, now many dogs are getting out two or three times a month. The increase in numbers is also allowing many volunteers more time with behavioral dogs, and many of those dogs have become much more adoptable. Also our shelter has increased its social media presence, and it seems more members of the public are willing to adopt and foster than ever before.
Now, let me briefly write about euthanasia from my perspective, because it is a reality at city shelters, and why unfortunately the city, at least where I volunteer, at times may deem it necessary to put an animal down. And also very clearly write, that from what I’ve seen, nobody ever wants to, or derives any pleasure from putting an animal down.
- Animal comes in severely injured or sick. Will never recover and/or poses an immediate risk to the community.
- Animal is labeled a dangerous animal, and over a long period of time the animal shows no signs of improvement. At some point, as sad as it is, the most humane thing may be to consider putting the animal down.
- Animal’s behavior or health takes a dramatic turn for the worse, possibly out of frustrations, or an undiagnosed issue… animal becomes a danger to staff, volunteers and the community.
- An animal develops a health issue, which is unable to be treated, no rescues or individuals are able to step up, and sadly, the most humane thing is to put the animal to sleep.
Thankfully, I have personally had and seen dozens of success stories of socializing animals and had a part in getting hundreds of animals adopted… So, while there are sad moments, and hard days, the rewards of seeing freedom photos, or gaining an animal’s trust, or watching animals exit the front gates with their new families is almost indescribable.
If YOU want to help SAVE animal lives…NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE… Here is a list of eight things you can possibly do…
Note: The less animals the system takes in, the less demand for kennel space, and the longer we have to work with animals that aren’t showing improvements. The quicker the public finds their lost stray animals the more open kennels we have. The more animals we get fostered or adopted, the less animals we have, and the more time staff and volunteers can spend with the animals we do have.
- HAVE CURRENT INFO on your pet’s collar, And with the microchip company. The shelter has dozens of animals that someone thought wouldn’t run away, or with contact details that are incorrect. Having information on and in your animal gives you the best chance in retrieving your animal quickly.
- VOLUNTEER…working directly with animals, in an office, and/or with the public. You can work with the easiest of bunnies, or the most challenging of dogs. You can take and edit videos, help with cat adoptions, sit with scared animals, play with puppies, assist with play groups, walk little old pocket pooches, socialize feral cats, collect donations, work with rescues, repost available animals on social media, do updates, design posters, do clerical things, and if you love programming or computers, it’d be awesome for someone to write code for better ways of keeping track of which dogs were walked, when, and for how long, and figure out a better way to attach to pictures, videos and handler behavioral notes that can be accessed while showing a particular animal to members of the public.
- MESSAGING…you can help animals in the shelter system, by keeping other animals OUT of the shelter system, changing the minds and perception of the public. You might be a person that spays/neuters your animals, but many don’t. You might be a person that would never consider surrendering a pet, but many do. You might have microchips in all of your pets, but many think it’s unnecessary (until it’s too late). You might have all you microchip information up to date, but many people forget to do that. You might not be able to imagine someone being cruel to an animal, but we have animals come in all the time that are taken away from individuals for humane reasons.
- FOSTER (OR ADOPT). Fostering is a great way to get animals out of the system and to see how they do in a more relaxed environment. One thing I tell all foster families… if you want to find a home for the animal you’re fostering… it really falls on you and your social network. While the city has volunteers and a staff member who do actively try to find foster animals homes, volunteers like me only see the animals in front of us, and when someone comes in looking for a new pet, I almost always suggest from the animals at the shelter at that given moment.
- DO EVERYTHING YOU POSSIBLY CAN, NOT TO SURRENDER your personal animals to a shelter. The shelter system is traumatic for a high percentage of animals. It is not a comfortable environment. Owning a pet is a lifetime commitment to that animal. They are not phones or cars. If you can’t imagine owning an older animal, then DO NOT get a puppy or kitten. All animals deserve respect and love. NEVER abuse or dump an animal at a park or on a street, with the hopes someone else finds the animal, or that the animal will somehow survive. NEVER! If you have to surrender an animal, do it responsibly at a shelter or rescue…give truthful detailed notes on the animal’s behavior. Do not fluff it up to “help” get the animal adopted, and do not over exaggerate “problem behaviors” to make yourself look better. Be honest. Those notes have to be taken seriously, and can put the animal in the wrong circumstances or prevent staff and volunteers from interacting with the animal for weeks. BE RESPONSIBLE care for your pets, and if you absolutely cannot, then at the very least be HONEST.
- TRAIN AND TREAT YOUR ANIMAL PROPERLY…unruly adult animals were most likely were trained incorrectly. Dogs that jump up, or are mouthy, or cats that hiss or scratch probably were encouraged to have that behavior early on, and then as they grew, “all of a sudden,” it became an issue. That’s not always the case, but train and treat your animal correctly.
- IF YOU FIND A STRAY ANIMAL…first off, thank you for taking the time and being an amazing person. Secondly, call animal control if you don’t feel comfortable with the animal, or if you do feel safe, and there are no contact details on the animal…bring the animal to the closest shelter to where you found the animal, ASAP. Los Angeles city shelters accept strays and found animals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After dropping the animal off, then put up posters, then post on social media. Post with the animal’s photo and the animal’s official id number.
Know that people tend to do a few things when losing an animal. They search by car and on foot, they post on their social media and neighborhood apps, they hang signs around where they lost their animal… but MOST OFTEN they visit the local shelters near where they lost the animal, the first few days after losing their loved one… And in a lot of instances, people only come to a particular shelter to look, one or two times!!!
If you really love an animal you find, you can put yourself down for first rights for that particular animal. That means, if no one claims the animal by the time it becomes available, you can claim the animal as your own, one-hour before the animal is available to the general public. You can then take the animal home and personally continue to attempt to locate his or her family, or make the animal your own.
NOTE: If you keep an animal at your home for a few days to try to locate the animal’s owner yourself, YOU MIGHT ACTUALLY BE REDUCING THE CHANCE of that that pet’s owner finding him or her.
- IF YOU LOSE A PET…after immediately searching, go to neighborhood apps and post pictures ASAP, contact the chip company and make sure your information is correct. Within a day or two, go to the nearest shelters to where you lost the animal. Go back a many times…as some times it takes days for someone to report, catch or bring the dog in. Don’t give up. It might days before your pet is spotted, and maybe weeks before someone trying to do good brings the dog into a shelter. Also, know that the city and county have different shelter systems, at least in Los Angeles. Lost dogs and cats can travel great distances when scared, disoriented, or searching for you, so consider visiting other shelters as well. Also know that micro-chipped animals remain unavailable for adoption at the city shelter for a longer time than non-chipped animals, yet another reason to get your pets chipped.
Love your animals and let them love you, protect them, treat them with respect, and to help SAVE LIVES, get the messages out there about proper training, spay/neutering, owning pets “furever,” microchipping, licensing, stopping backyard breeding, and personally consider volunteering, fostering or adopting.
If you have a feel good animal, adoption, foster, or rescue story, PLEASE feel free to share in the comment section. Please feel free to pass this rambling on. Lastly Please feel free to follow, subscribe, or connect on social media.
– Quiche Out
DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the public who happens to currently volunteer with the city of Los Angeles. The above writing is mere personal perception and an unofficial opinion exercising freedom of speech. By no means is anything I write official, nor am I in any way a spokesperson for North Central and/or LAAS.
ALSO NOTE: IMAGES contained in this article were pulled from publicly displayed social media sites. Individuals are encouraged to forward this article on, but no portion of this may be reprinted or copied without written consent from the author.