Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Faces Behind the Numbers

6 to 8 million cats and dogs enter shelters every year in the USA. 3 to 4 million of these are euthanized by shelters each year. Almost 25% of the shelter residents are pure bred. (source). Humane societies and other animal rescue groups large and small frequently quote these statistics to underscore the tragic reality of pet overpopulation and the attendant consequences that culminate in an untimely end to a life of misery for some innocent animal.

In addition to the sheer waste of precious lives, this crisis has other effects: "...the transformation of some animal shelters into "warehouses," the acceptance of cruelty to animals as a way of life in our society, and the stress that caring shelter workers suffer when they are forced to euthanize one animal after another. Living creatures have become throwaway items to be cuddled when cute and abandoned when inconvenient. Such disregard for animal life pervades and erodes our culture." (source)

Statistics are useful in making the case for animal rescue, spay, neuter, fostering, and adoption from shelters. Statistics are likely to inspire people to make charitable donations to causes that combat the crisis. Statistics are also capable of inspiring one to volunteer one's time, talent, money, and influence and become involved with a local rescue group.

Ultimately, however, the transition from a statistics-inspired volunteer to an animal rescue crusader happens at a very individual, personal level. Stories and faces have a far greater power to move a soul than numbers however large. Romeo's story is an example of putting a face to the abstract notion of 'helping animal rescue'. Romeo is a featured UHA pet - he was hit by a car, did not receive the proper medical attention, and his femur healed incorrectly causing him to limp around in a lot of pain. The cost of the major surgery he requires (femoral head ostectomy) may have condemned him - many pet owners have to make the painful decision of putting their companion animal to sleep if money is not available and cannot be raised. Fortunately for Romeo, there are people who care enough to dedicate themselves to raising the money and donors who are willing to contribute small and large amounts to help him recover.

Featured pets and websites apart, there is no substitute to visiting your local shelter, looking into the eyes of a waggy-tailed "owner surrender" and realizing the truth behind the lines oft-quoted in animal rescue circles:
Better to light a candle for one lost dog
than to curse the darkness of man's indifference.

Saving just one dog won't change the world

but it surely will change the world for that one dog
. (source)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Wolf with the Heart of a Puppy

Many shelter pets were adopted in the past couple of weeks and the list of adoptables that seemed to be ever increasing was whittled down slightly. The lab puppy Curly, the staffie puppy Daisy Duke, Blaze the terrier mix, Mr. Melvin the pug, Arthur the beagle, and about 7 others found their "forever homes".

Of course, many deserving animals still remain patiently waiting their turn at the shelter - yearning for human contact and company, pawing at you for attention when you pass by the row of expectant faces, furiously wagging their tails with joy when someone approaches or even looks at them; soldiering on with a patient, steadfast hope that refuses to be dampened as days pass with no sign on their doggie horizon of a cozy home and a loving owner. Weekends are probably their best days with a small army of volunteer caregivers to take them for walks and offer them an all-too-brief oasis away from the noises and smells of their kennels, letting them sniff around to their hearts content, roll on grassy lawns, and generally exult in the breeze and the sunlight.

We had noticed the magnificent shaggy animal in the adjoining photo - since named Chief - last weekend but didn't have time to adequately make his acquaintance. Chief is a long-haird german shepherd who looks to me like a wolf but has the heart of a puppy. I was star struck but apprehensive when I first saw him - on approaching his kennel, he pawed at me trying to make contact, sniffed and then licked at the hand I offered in peace and friendship, and promptly pressed himself against the door expecting to be petted. I cautiously indulged him by scratching that big head - to his obvious enjoyment.

That icebreaker set the tone for our second meeting when I took him for a walk+photoshoot and could truly appreciate his size and majestic demeanour. He responded almost instantly to "Sit". In fact, he responded so enthusiastically that he not just sat, he also flopped down on all fours and partly rolled over. We tried a "Shake" and were rewarded with a left paw! A long coat brushing session then ensued, which was followed by attempts (on his part) to bite the leash and play tug of war. Much to our relief, he was easily dissuaded - a tug of war with a wolf like creature who seemed to be unaware how large he was could have gone either way ;) Overall, he was amazingly docile, good natured, and playful and it was a privilege to be seen with him! Ultimately, it was back to the kennel with the promise of more outings in the future.

We left with mixed emotions; fond memories of the brief interaction, a desire to see more of Chief in the next visit, but also the knowledge that seeing more of him at the shelter would only mean he was still not adopted...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Notes from a photo shoot

Sunday was another interesting day at the shelter - less busy than usual because the regulars were probably busy with Mothers' Day "festivities". As always, there were newer dogs to be photographed and walked, newer noses sniffing at you, newer tongues licking your hand through kennel doors, and newer pets I wished I could just take home.

There was Sophie the beautiful cocker spaniel who can do with a good grooming but looks radiant even without it. There was Cinnamon, her kennel mate who pranced around on the grass and didn't want to leave Sophie's side. There was Kenya with the unusually curled tail, Doodles the poodle looking fluffy and charming as always, two friendly German Shepherds who looked so identical in photographs that it was tough to tell which was Sara and which was Bruno, and a gentle, friendly, and petite staffie named Butterfly Kisses!! Also resident were two gorgeous Huskies who are hopefully on their way to a breed-specific rescue group, and a large shaggy friendly beast - a shepherd mix probably - who just wanted to lie down and be petted. We will be sure to take him out for a walk and photo shoot next Sunday. Watch this space!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

United Hope for Animals

I had created a blog earlier, never posted anything (no surprises there) and finally figured out how to delete it - surprisingly non-intuitive. This blog should have a longer lifespan because it is a blog with a purpose.

I have involved myself with a local animal rescue group United Hope for Animals. I have never had a pet and when I began my volunteering about 2+ months ago, I had no strong sense of mission about animal rescue. There were a variety of other motivations - a general desire for the volunteer experience, a conviction that there must be something I am good at that I could contribute to a worthwhile cause, a strong desire to do some hands on work with animals - arising mainly from countless hours of watching animal planet, etc. Volunteermatch was a good resource - the logical choice would have been to help out at the Pasadena Humane Society which is very close to my residence, but their volunteer page never seems to have any openings!! The only statement on the page seems to be that they have enough volunteers and the website visitor should check back after a couple of months.

A three-day old American Staffordshire Terrier
I have always fancied myself perhaps incorrectly as a 'photographer' and I thought animal photography for adoption purposes was a better use of my time in addition to routine photography on vacations and other occasions. I have also begun to appreciate the challenges facing non-profit organizations especially in the area of fundraising. I have absolutely no experience with non-profits but educating myself about fundraising fundamentals seems to be worthwhile not just for this volunteering experience but in general as a 'management' challenge.

The shelter dogs we photograph are uploaded on Petfinder, 1-800-Save-a-pet, and the UHA website - here and here. With a distributed and somewhat decentralized pool of people volunteering their time, it seems impractical to create a tracking mechanism that will allow us to evaluate which of these sites is generating the most adoptions or even evaluate the ratio of adoptions that take place by people directly visiting the shelter and falling in love vs visiting a website looking for a pet to adopt. I am sure there are many books that claim to teach you about leveraging the power of the internet, but I am skeptical of their value especially in this context.

A few ideas I have tried out so far are listed below - comments and additional suggestions are welcome!
Interestingly, the photos from flickr have started getting featured in other blogs, although I don't know the readership of those blogs. Leslie from has featured two of my photos (Curly, Ollie), and Terry Bain has featured three of my photos to date (Curly, Destiny, Rocky) on his website and one (Sissy Lala) on his blog.

More later.