A Smart Way to Help a Public Shelter

A Smart Way to Help a Public Shelter

I believe it was Margaret Mead who said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

SCAMP (Saving Cheatham Animals Mission PAWSible) is a smart model for how small group of committed individuals can help a publicly funded shelter. There’s so much to love about SCAMP (including its namesake pup!).

SCAMP is a 501c3 organization that raises money to directly help the animals at Cheatham County Animal Shelter. SCAMP provides immediate help by purchasing needed supplies, veterinary services, and pretty much anything outside the budget that a shelter would have to requisition the county government to obtain.

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“I’ll Do Anything to Save an Animal”

“I’ll Do Anything to Save an Animal”

“I’ll do anything to save an animal.”

Those were the words of Remi, the founder of Paws 4 the Cause in Lexington, Kentucky. We’d just met up with him as a last minute addition to our shelter tour after that morning’s originally planned visit had canceled. It was sheer luck that we happened upon Paws 4 the Cause, or maybe my restlessness.

Twenty minutes before we were to leave for our scheduled stop that day, we got a message that the director we were to meet had a family emergency. Nancy settled in to edit pictures, and I surfed the internet. We had three hours to kill before we’d need to leave for our afternoon visit. On a whim, I pulled up google maps and searched for a nearby rescue. Maybe there was another place we were meant to be.

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Somebody Oughta Do Something About It

Somebody Oughta Do Something About It

I have something BIG to tell you. It’s exciting, and also somewhat scary for me.

Three years ago, I visited a shelter in North Carolina. I wanted to see where my foster dogs were coming from. I’d foster over one hundred by then, and I was curious—why was there an endless stream of dogs in need?

I remember that moment so clearly. The smell, the sounds, the desperation, but also all those beautiful dogs.

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Keeping the Animals Out of the Shelter

Keeping the Animals Out of the Shelter

The mission of Paws of SWVA is similar to so many rescue organizations in the south – keep animals out of the shelter.

Not only are shelters extremely stressful places for animals, too many shelters in our rural south still kill dogs (and cats) for space, so crowded shelters mean more animals die. Paws of SWVA keeps dogs (and cats) out of the shelter by providing foster homes, securing rescue placement, and getting animals adopted, many times out of state.

The other way that Paws keeps animals out of the shelter is by promoting and providing spay/neuter services. They run a van service twice a month to Bristol, Virginia to a veterinarian there because vet services are so few and far between (and expensive) in southwest Virginia.

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Shelter Tour Week Two

Shelter Tour Week Two

Our second week on tour coincided with Hurricane Ida, which thankfully skirted around the places we planned to visit mostly dumping a bit of rain here and there. We were able to rearrange our visits and move our one all-day outside to after the weather passed thanks to the flexibility of many people.

While our visits confirmed what we learned the first week – shelters are growing crowded as owner surrenders continue to ratchet up, and puppy and kitten season does not abate. But we also noticed something else that was different on this tour than our previous ones. There are a lot more purebred dogs in the shelters.

My best guess is that this is because so many people bought puppies during the pandemic and those puppies grew into adolescent dogs which require a lot of work and don’t always live up to the expectations of owners. Plus certain breeds have characteristics that owners may or may not have anticipated or been able to handle. Beyond that, economic circumstances have a lot of people surrendering dogs they can’t afford anymore. At any rate, we saw purebred large breeds like Huskies, Rottweilers, Labs, plus many smaller breeds and scruffies.

We also saw a lot of puppies and small breed dogs, which is usually not the case as those dogs get pulled by rescue or adopted at a much higher rate. It was telling that rescue coordinators are struggling to find rescues willing to take puppies.

To me, the presence of so many ‘desirable’ type animals in the shelters is a ‘canary in the coalmine’. It is time for rescues to double-down on all that they can do to help because full shelters lead to killing dogs for space. Even at the shelters that have for many years been saving every treatable, adoptable animal, there is a fresh fear that killing for space is on the horizon if things don’t improve.

Fingers crossed for the early fall back-to-school surge in adoptions and rescue pulls.

We will tell you MUCH more about all thirteen organizations that we visited on this tour in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a thing!

And in case you weren’t following along in real time on Facebook, the week’s posts are pasted below.

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Fall Shelter Tour Part One

Fall Shelter Tour Part One

Traveling through the south this time around feels different. It’s not just the masks that are sometimes prevalent and other times completely absent. As we wind through the mountains on our way to Nashville, I wondered about priorities. Is it wrong to want to save dogs when people are struggling so much? Will people care what we about what we are seeing? Will they find everything as heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, as I do?

I think it’s even more remarkable how hard the people we meet are working. Despite the compassion fatigue and an often apathic public, so many continue to fight for lives, even as the wave of homeless dogs builds instead of ebbing.

Everyone said that the silver lining of the pandemic was all the adoptions, the empty shelters, the new awareness of rescue, the flood of fosters. And that was great. I’m definitely not discounting that moment. It was awesome.

But in its wake, shelters and rescues are drowning. That was the word we heard more than once from shelter directors and rescue coordinators in answer to my question, “How are you doing?”

They are drowning. Owner surrenders are at an all time high as people struggle to care for their families in uncertain times. The result of 6-12 months of no spay/neuter surgeries, puppy and kitten season is astronomical. Even now, getting a vet appointment to spay or neuter a dog can take weeks.

Rescues are full and adoptions have slowed to a trickle. Everyone either already adopted a dog or is hesitant to commit to a new life when the future looks as precarious as ever. With no dogs moving north and huge numbers of dogs arriving at the shelters via owners who can’t keep them or animal control officers who are as busy as ever, the result is unavoidable. Dogs are being killed in places that once claimed no-kill status. Parvo is rampant as puppies fill the shelters and linger instead of heading out to rescues.

I keep hoping the story will be different at our next stop, but so far, halfway through our tour, that has not been the case. We are sharing our stories in real time on Facebook and Instagram and plan to share even more via this blog and our YouTube channel once we are home. I hope you are following along. But just in case, here’s a recap:

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Top State Killing Dogs?

Top State Killing Dogs?

North Carolina has been named one of the top five states killing animals by Best Friends.

I’ve been to North Carolina. I’ve visited shelters and rescues, know animal advocates in the state, and fostered plenty of dogs from North Carolina (including the nine pups I’m fostering right now).

I’ve also traveled and visited shelters in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. I can tell you with all certainty, that there are more dogs dying in each of those states than North Carolina.

Now, I’m not going to say that North Carolina is a success story or doesn’t kill its share of animals (over 60K in 2019), but there’s a reason they were placed in the top five worst states for animal welfare and it has nothing to do with communities that don’t value animals or shelter directors who have not bought in to the No-kill formula or government that won’t properly fund their shelters.

It doesn’t even have to do with the fact that North Carolina killed the equivalent of the population of Daytona Beach in dogs and cats this past year.

It has everything to do with a very good law, a law I wish was in place in every state.

In North Carolina, county shelters are required to report their intake/outcome numbers for all the animals that pass through their care. And they publicly release these numbers so that anyone – you or me or Best Friends—can look up those numbers and know exactly how many dogs (or cats or bunnies or horses or skunks) are being destroyed by state tax dollars and how many are being adopted and how many are being transferred out via rescue in any county in North Carolina.

[And here I have to first commend North Carolina for having county shelters in place – whether they are modern state of the art buildings or the same concrete structures that have stood through hurricanes for decades. At least they have county shelters – something Mississippi and Tennessee and too many other states do not.]

If every state required their shelters to track and report their numbers publicly there would be a reckoning.

I’m certain of that because the one consistent fact we’ve discovered in our travels to nearly fifty shelters in seven states in the last 18 months, is that the public generally has no idea what is really happening at their local shelter. They don’t understand that with a limited amount of space, resources, personnel, and budget, many shelter staff conclude they have no option other than to destroy animals on a regular basis. Or to hold them indefinitely (so as to not kill them) in cruel conditions.

Sometimes it’s leadership, sometimes it’s the law, and sometimes its just the overwhelming number of animals shelters are expected to handle.

I remain convinced that if the public knew what was happening they would do something about it. If they saw the faces that we saw on every visit, they would be moved to action.

Marl-22

It is not that people don’t care that animals are suffering and dying in their communities, it’s that they don’t know.

So, kudos to you North Carolina for your transparency and for knowing that if we don’t identify the problem we have no chance of fixing it.

robeson 2019 numbers

If you’d like to read the 2019 numbers for North Carolina shelters, click here to see the full report.

Until every cage is empty,

Cara

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Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. If you’d like to contribute to our work, we encourage you to click on the how to help link above and give directly to a shelter. You can also donate to our work via OPH’s donation page by designating Who Will Let the Dogs Out (or WALDO) in your comments.

My upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, July 7, 2020) tells the story of not only our foster experience but some of our shelter visits and how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. It is available for preorder now and a portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.

 

An Angel in the Tennessee Dog Pounds

An Angel in the Tennessee Dog Pounds

As we walked through several municipal pounds in Tennessee, I kept thinking, “Thank God for Amber.”

Truly.

She and her husband Brandon and their rescue Halfway Home are the only hope for too many animals whose lives could so easily be snuffed out, unknown and uncounted.

As far as I can tell, ‘animal control’ in Tennessee is Read more

Valuing Dogs Others Have Dumped

Valuing Dogs Others Have Dumped

After our day with All 4s in Memphis, we were dirty and tired but we still had one more stop—Horn Lake Animal Shelter.

We were headed there because of a woman named Julia who had contacted me shortly before we left on this trip asking if we had time to squeeze in a visit to Horn Lake. We didn’t, but Julia was compelling, so at 4:30pm on Wednesday, we found them just past the dump, sharing space with Read more

What Money and Support Can Do When It Comes to Saving Dogs

What Money and Support Can Do When It Comes to Saving Dogs

Only an hour from Corinth where they are struggling to raise money for the shelter by sitting outside the supermarket collecting donations is a beautiful, brand-new 2 million dollar shelter teeming with staff and resources.

Tupulo-28

Tupelo-Lee Humane Society is blessed with Read more