The year 2018 was a year I will always remember as drastically changing my life. It was the year that I became aware of the shelter animal crisis in the US and just how many animals are put to death each year. I am forever changed because of it and I wanted to share my story of why I am so passionate about animal rescue.
Last March, I had an experience that would shape a lot of my thoughts and priorities going forward in life. It was life-changing in the truest sense of the word.
As the people closest to me already know, I am obsessed with cats in general and especially MY 3 cats. They also know I am completely in LOVE with great Danes and have been wanting to get one for years now. It’s something Chris always jokes about: “She doesn’t want a dog, she wants a horse!” Ha. So even though it wasn’t an imminent reality on our horizon, for some reason I had been torturing myself by getting acquainted with all the local Austin Great Dane rescues. And falling in love with all the sweet dogs I can’t get yet. Dumb, I know! But, you know, I did it just to get prepared for one day when I could get one? Or something like that. 🙂
Chris had left for a work trip to Tokyo and one day while he was gone I was randomly browsing my FB feed, when one of the rescues I had followed posted a picture of a sweet black Dane, a 5-year-old girl who was in immediate need of rescue as she was next on the euthanasia list at a shelter in another city. She had giant mammary tumors on her stomach as she had been majorly overbred, not well cared for and clearly dumped by the breeder when she was no longer useful to them. I was shocked and so angry.
This led me to look up the shelter she was at, which was a super high volume city shelter. A little rescue group went there every week to take pictures of all the animals because the turnover was so high and they were so understaffed that there was no other way that anyone other than people who walked in would ever have the chance to see these animals. They wrote quick captions for each animal and pled for anyone who was interested to adopt or spread the word to others who might be interested in them before it was too late. And by too late, I mean before they were put down.
The ones that were next on the euthanasia list they labeled as urgent and code red. I scrolled through their feed in literal shock as I saw tons of sweet, scared, sad dog faces. SO.MANY.FACES. They said that if nobody stood up for them, they literally would not be there next Monday when they went back to take new pictures. This was on a Thursday I believe. They were saying that all those sweet babies would be killed the next day if no one adopted them. Killed…to make more space.
You know when they say something is like looking at a car crash, too horrible but you can’t seem to look away? That was me as I scrolled in utter disbelief. The saddest thing I had ever seen in my life, but unable to stop looking. My eyes stopped on two 4-month-old black sister pups who looked completely terrified that were labeled as an urgent SOS. It was nearing their deadline and they had gotten no interest at all. “They are just babies at the beginning of their lives!” it said. They said they would definitely be gone by Monday. And that the shelter closed at 4 on Friday and was not open on the weekend. This shelter also happened to be about 3.5 hours away from Austin. Someone on the page had already asked their status and if they had been adopted after all but there was no response yet. The group clearly had a hard time updating each profile as they were so busy and the turnaround was so fast.
I got a spurt of desperate adrenaline to leap into action and ask if they were still there. My mind raced a million miles an hour with this primal desire to swoop in and save these innocent souls. I knew we weren’t ready to adopt a dog, especially 2 of them and Chris and I discuss everything, always…but I started thinking crazy things like “I’ll just go get them and ask for forgiveness later! Or maybe I’ll just keep them till I can find them another home?” I knew it would be completely unfair to make a major life decision like that without him, but I couldn’t stop this feeling like I had to do this. It was just the right thing to do! Although I am not sure I had formed a coherent plan yet, I went back to their picture determined to figure out a way and saw the rescue group had written a response. I will never forget the words until the day I die:
“They killed these scared babies.”
I didn’t believe it at first, “No! No! They must have them confused with some other ones!” They had until Friday I thought?!!…” Then I noticed what I didn’t the first time, that this was posted last week and the Monday they were talking about was a couple days ago. I was too late.
I burst into uncontrollable, body-wracking sobbing. I have never cried so hard in my life. The only way I can describe how I felt is that my heart was shattered into a million pieces and I was plunged into the deepest grief I have ever felt. I am actually crying as I write this because the feelings are still there and I remember exactly how I felt at that moment. I couldn’t stop looking at their faces sobbing over and over how sorry I was that everyone had let them down. That it was too late. That I didn’t even know they existed until just that morning. I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry!! You deserved so much more! I wish you had felt love and didn’t spend your last days on a cold, blanketless cement floor!
I saw my own precious, sweet fur babies in their faces and shuddered at the thought of them having such a cruel, sad and short life. Those babies were just as important! They had their own unique value! Their lives mattered to me. So much. All life is precious.
When I recovered enough to keep scrolling, I saw another dog who absolutely wrecked me. A pit bull, curled up into the fetal position, with an expression on her face that will forever be burned into my mind. It was a girl. The caption read: “This is the face of hopelessness and fear aggression. She just needs someone to take a chance on her and show her love” or something like that. I wanted to be that person for her, I was completely unsure if it was wise or not. I knew it could be very complicated to do that while also having my cats. I was pretty sure I couldn’t take her at first but wanted to see if I could find a pit bull rescue that would help me and maybe I could sponsor her. I found one in Austin and reached out and left a message.
Next, I called the shelter to see if she was still there. Because it was so fast moving, every caption for each dog said to contact the shelter to see if they were still available, because the rescue probably couldn’t respond in time and they only knew which dogs were there each time they dropped in. I called and asked if she was still there by the kennel number that was listed. There seemed to be a lot of confusion with the girl on the phone. At first, she said she was, but then they checked and said there was a pit bull in that cage but it was a male and had just gotten there yesterday. It wasn’t her, she had already been put down. Once again, I was too late.
Remember the great Dane that was posted that started this whole rabbit trail? I realized I had forgotten about her for a while and went back to see how I could help her get out. The Austin rescue said they could take her if someone could help with transport. I decided giving a donation would be the best way to help make that happen since I was so far and wasn’t sure if I could get up there in time. I kept checking back to make sure the transport for sure happened and it did.
Even though I knew it would break my heart every time, I kept going back to that FB page and looking through all the dog updates and it put me through this endless cycle that I knew was unhealthy but I didn’t know what to do with that yet. I couldn’t stop. Every week around Thursday there would be desperate code red pleas, sometimes there were happy updates that the dog had been adopted. But sometimes that happy little “adopted!” update never came.
A few weeks in a row I kept coming to Chris crying: “We need to help this dog or no one else will!” He was super kind and understanding. He loves animals too, but he told me the brutal truth: “Look, this isn’t sustainable. You’re going to come to me every week and it will never end. I want to help too, but we won’t be able to take every dog. And it’s not the right time for us to adopt one. We have to help in another way.”
I knew he was right but couldn’t help how I felt. I had to do something about it but I wasn’t sure what yet. I knew we couldn’t take every dog and I could see that there was no end in sight to this problem. We did what we could for being so far away, which was donate money. Once I learned more about ways I could help, we decided to foster a pregnant mama cat and helped her raise her 5 kittens till they were old enough to be adopted. And we adopted sweet mama cat ourselves.
This entire experience, which happened by chance on FB one day completely changed me. I am not the same person anymore, I can never “un-know” the sad reality that actually hit me that day. Like most people, I have heard of pounds before of course. In fact, the scene at the pound in Lady & The Tramp when the man was leading a dog away to clearly be put down traumatized me. Ever since we met, Chris & I always wanted to get a cat. And I had toyed with the idea of going to a shelter to get one. But I also knew it would make me desperately sad to have to choose just one and then leave all the rest of the poor animals there to possibly die. That scared me, I wasn’t sure my heart could handle it.
Because we live in Austin, which is the biggest no-kill city in the US, (a fact that makes me incredibly proud to live here!!) they are great about advocating adoption over shopping from breeders. When we told our apartments we were ready to get two kittens, they gave us the info for Austin Pets Alive, an amazing local rescue. We ended up getting our cat Chester from them and our cat Milo from the Austin Humane Society.
But the truth is we kind of stumbled into adopting over shopping. It was sort of a toss-up, like oh we could get them there or maybe from an ad on craigslist or something? It was really only because of the apartment’s info and guidance that we had any concrete rescues to know to go to. Even after we adopted and became passionate advocates for adoption, we didn’t truly understand the extent of this problem.
Living in a no-kill city somewhat coddled me from the realities that the surrounding communities face. I knew somewhat that I was hiding from it and was glad that we didn’t have to go to those “kill shelters” when we looked for our cats. We had heard of a city nearby that was high-kill because a lot of the animals that Austin takes in are from there. I always thought of it as a “bad” city and got sad whenever I saw the name come up on maps and stuff.
But I didn’t KNOW-KNOW what a giant issue this is until I saw it with my very own eyes. And saw the very real-life faces of the animals it involves. Until I felt the feeling of knowing that those specific animals were going to die. When we went to all the shelters here, even though it killed us every time how many animals in cages there were and that we couldn’t take them all, at least we knew we weren’t leaving them to die. At least we knew they were just waiting there until they were adopted.
I want to share my story with anyone who will listen to it because I didn’t know. And I think most people also do not know, on a very real level, the shelter animal crisis we are facing today. I had absolutely no idea that the problem was as huge as it actually is. Some of the very real facts are:
- 1.5 MILLION shelter animals are euthanized every year in the US
- 34% of dogs are still purchased from breeders
- There are an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in the US and over 2 million puppies bred each year
- 56% of dogs and 71% of cats entering shelters each year are euthanized
- Although shelter protocol can vary, the hold time for each animal that enters until it is euthanized is only 72 hours. That means they only have 3 days to hope someone adopts them or their owners reclaim them (if they don’t have a microchip) before it is too late.
This is the reality of where we find ourselves right now. This is OUR problem. We, humans, created it and I believe it is our responsibility to fix it.
Although this is an issue which is incredibly painful to face, and very very sad, the good thing is that this is something that can be fixed and we can be the ones to change it! Because of the increased education on this issue and the amazing work of rescue groups and supporters everywhere, we now know the real numbers of the animals we are looking at and more people are adopting! In 2011, the estimated number of animals euthanized each year was approximately 7.2 million, so even though we have so far to go it shows that people are making a real difference!
Another thing I learned throughout all this, is WHY people are so insistent on spaying and neutering every animal. I used to find it strange why animal advocates harped on this issue so much, it felt so strict and kind of arbitrary to me. And it felt kind of unfair to the animal honestly. When I started looking into this, I did wonder “Well, say for example all cats are spayed and neutered will the species then become extinct?” Which isn’t a dumb question btw, I was really wondering how it all worked. It turns out we would be in no danger of that ever happening since even one pair of cats can reproduce very quickly. In fact, I was shocked by this number I found:
- One pair of cats and their offspring can produce more than 2 million cats in 8 years! There is some debate about the actual numbers, but look up cat multiplication pyramids if you are interested! The point is that they multiply like crazy.
And THAT is the reason that people are so stringent on the need to spay and neuter because animal advocates have seen in person the very real consequences of animals wasting away in shelters and getting euthanized every day. It’s personal to them and very real. It is also completely avoidable.
Like I said before, this is a problem that we are able to help eliminate! We literally have the power to save innocent lives by using our voices, our money and our time for this cause. Because there are SO many awesome ways to help and I want to go into depth on them in another post, as well as my favorite groups to support, I will just briefly summarize the basics here.
Ways you can help:
- Adopt from a shelter or rescue, do not purchase animals from breeders or pet stores.
- Help pass legislation that bans puppy mills.
- Help pass legislation that regulates and reduces breeding.
- Spay and neuter all your animals.
- Microchip your animals (very important so they can be returned to you if they are lost!)
- Support your local rescue and shelter efforts by volunteering, fostering or donating!
The biggest beacon of hope I found throughout my devasting discovery of this huge problem that felt hopeless, was the fact that BestFriends.Org, an amazing animal rescue organization is leading the US in an effort to make our entire nation no-kill by the year 2025. They have plans in place to lead us into this beautiful goal and together we can make it a reality! I hope it will be sooner because that is still 9 million animals too many being killed in the meantime, but it is HOPE. And that hope lights a fire under me every day to do what I can to help and donate and be a part of the change, because every life matters! Will you join me?