The easiest and most common mistake made in the animal rescue community is forgetting about the human element. It's understandable - it's a community made up of people who simply love animals more than people, and who can blame us? But behind every gorgeous photograph of an adoptable animal passing through our feed is a community of individuals who are giving their time and their hearts to shelter work. In his incredibly moving book Finding Shelter, dog photographer Jesse Freidin gives a voice to these silent heroes, and in doing so starts a dialogue about shelter work in a much needed effort to re-brand and change the way we think about it. He takes the common assumption of shelters as dirty, depressing places, crowded with "undesirable" dogs and reveals them for what they truly are: a place where animals and people go to save each other. Are you crying yet? If not, just wait until you get a few pages into the book (I didn't make it past the intro without tearing up). Just be prepared to find yourself signing up to volunteer at your local shelter - never has there been a more convincing argument for it. Below is one volunteer's story, but do yourself and the rescue community a favor and get a copy for yourself and everyone you know, especially those you know who are struggling. When I finished the book, I wondered if we shouldn't just change the word "shelter" to "free therapy".
LINDA + SHEILA
Downey animal care center
"I’ve been volunteering for ten years. I come in every day after work, and all day on the weekends. I want to make sure the dogs who need a blanket, or need extra food, or just need someone to sit in their kennel with them, have that kind of support. These dogs all need somebody. Even if we can’t save them all, we should at least be there for them and let them know we love them before they leave the shelter — whether that’s being euthanized or adopted or rescued. I really believe that that’s our job as volunteers.
I’m the Pit Bull advocate here, because they’re the underdog. I tell everyone, 'You shouldn’t judge them until you meet them, because they’re an amazing breed.' Still, they are the hardest dogs to get out of the shelter. I want to be there for all the dogs, even the ones who I know won’t make it out. They deserve at least that much.
I think I get more from the dogs than they get from me. They provide unconditional love, so you always get something back from them. When new volunteers come in, I tell them that I cry every time I leave the shelter, I cry when they get adopted, when they get rescued, and when they get euthanized. But I always get something back from these dogs, and then I pay it forward to the next dog. If I lose a dog, I think, 'I’m going to save another dog in their name.' That’s what you have to do.
Every dog that comes through the shelter system is simply looking for someone to love them, and not everyone understands that. A lot people think it’s too difficult to come into the shelter, but you just may find that one dog that’s going to change your whole life. Your whole entire life. You have to believe in these dogs, you just have to. That’s what it’s all about: They make you happy, and they don’t expect anything from you in return. Your life will be changed for the better.
It’s not always a happy ending, but you have to give what you can. If my only job for the whole day at the shelter is to sit and love on the dogs, to hold them and tell them I love them before they are euthanized, then I feel like I did something for them. I’m not going to desert them, I’m going to stay there with them and I’ll be there to the end, whatever the outcome is. I’ll be there."