By Jim Tedford, Director of Animal Welfare Initiatives and Alliances
It is interesting how we tend to appreciate things so much more when we need them. We complain about paying premiums for our homeowners insurance until we have a fire or a burglary and need to file a claim. We complain about police officers spending all their time sitting in donut shops until we have a car accident or feel threatened in some way, and then our heroes in blue show up to bail us out. We tell lawyer jokes with reckless abandon until we find ourselves needing representation in court. The same can be said for our nation’s animal shelters.
Many people still see the shelter as a dreary, sad place. They harken back to the 1950s or ‘60s, and remember shelters as little more than death row for dogs and cats. And, that’s only when they think about the shelter at all. Chances are most people couldn’t even find their community animal shelter on a map...at least until they need it! When you pass that injured animal on the side of the road, who do you call? When your child gets bitten by the neighborhood stray, who do you call? When you can no longer care for your own pets, who do you call? When you are looking for a new best friend, where do you go? The folks who work in your local shelter are always available to you. And, now it’s time to be there for them.
The truth is, in an increasing number of communities across the nation, animal shelters are places of hope, places of healing and redemption and places of learning. Animal shelters have become community centers where people with a passion for the welfare of animals gather to work toward a better world for animals and people. Modern shelters are not poorly-lit, dingy grey prisons. They are warm and inviting, and are designed for the comfort of their special guests, the animals.
The first week in November has been designated as National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week by the Humane Society of the United States. I would argue that we should appreciate our shelters and the people who power them EVERY week, but this week is a good start. Hopefully at this point you’re thinking to yourself, “Self, what can we do to show our appreciation for our animal shelter this week?” Well, Self, I’m glad you asked.
First, workers in animal shelters generally don’t take much time to think about their own needs. Many work countless hours for below-average pay and benefits. So, while we never want to lose sight of the well-being of the animals, do something nice for the people in your local shelter. Bake them some cookies or just send them a thank-you note for their 24/7/365 efforts! A pat on the back is more reward than most shelter workers expect.
And, shelters are always concerned about doing more with less. So, help them out a bit. Donations of cash, supplies and equipment are always needed and welcomed. Do not assume you know what the shelter needs. For example, many shelters are now participating in feeding programs with large pet food companies so they don’t need food donations. Their needs may be as simple as towels and blankets, or as lofty as trucks. Many shelters use the cardboard rolls from toilet tissue or paper towels to entertain small mammals. The best way to make sure that you are fulfilling a real need is to contact the shelter and ask them. Many organizations publish “wish lists” on their websites or in their newsletters.
Don’t wait till you need your local animal shelter to reach out to them. Make contact now and let them know how much you appreciate their lifesaving work!