It's been a couple of weeks since my last post about volunteering, and I've put in about 30 hours at the shelter. It has been interesting, exciting, overwhelming, and gratifying. Every time I go in I learn something new about the shetler and what the rules are. Everyone is excited when an animal gets adopted, especially if you've put in a lot of time socializing that animal. I was surprised by my protective feeling for one cat that I had spent a fair amount of time with who was being adopted. She had been returned by an adopter for a ridiculously lame reason (the cat jumped on the counter), and a man came in to adopt her for his family. I was caught off guard by my protectiveness of the kitty - wanting her next home to be her last. I believe any good home is better than the shelter, but I was surprised by how quickly I took a personal interest in the welfare of this cat.
I also helped a group of teenagers search for their lost cat. We walked through many rooms of cats and kittens and I was disappointed when I heard one of them talking about "when their kitten grows up and has babies". I reminded them how important it is to spay their pet because, as they could see, there a countless homeless pets in the shelter and many are euthanized. But they were a little too young and naive to "get it". I only hope I planted the seed of understanding that cute as your kitten is, there are hundreds of other cute kittens and cats out there that need homes, and you don't need to make any more.
Being an animal lover and wanting each animal to have a quality life, it does get overwhelming seeing cage after cage of cats & kittens just sitting in their cages with nothing to do. It's also discouraging to know that the supply of cats and kittens is never ending. This week, I heard we had about 280 cats in the shelter.
In order to reduce the chance of feeling overwhelmed, I've decided to focus on the adult cats that live in the cages. There are multi-cat rooms in our shelter with furniture, perches, and room for the cats to play a bit, and the cats in these rooms have a pretty good living arrangement. The caged cats have their basic needs met with shelter, food, water, and clean bedding. A mom & kitten may be housed in a single cage, or a few kitten littermates, or a solitary adult cat. They can only take about three steps in their cage, don't have any room to play, and get very bored and stressed. Each room of 8 cages has an adjoining large room where potential adopters can spend time with a cat.
My goal is that every adult cat is taken out of its cage at least three times a week for 10-15 minutes for some interraction and a chance to stretch or play in the big room. I know that's a lofty goal that will require the dedication and time of many volunteers. And I realize my goal may be unatainable, but I figure it's better to try and fall short than to not try at all. Another volunteer sent out an email with a quote from Helen Keller that I thought was appropriate:
I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
If I have 2 hours to volunteer that means I can get 5 or maybe 6 cats out for 15 minutes each. I also spend some time checking all the cages for food, water, and litter box cleaning. Some of the kittens are so desperate for attention that you can't ignore them, so that takes a little time too. There's also the chance that a visitor will have questions or will need help looking at the cats, and that takes priority since the point of sheltering the animals is to get them into permanent homes.
There are some cats that really need to get out of their cage to play, some are content to stay in their cage an just be petted, others want to come out and sit on your lap for petting. Playing, petting, brushing, cuddling, or just walking around the big room sniffing and getting a stretch - whatever the cat seems to need is what I try to give it. I do try to be a bit sneaky with the cats who just want petting and I move around the room and try to get them to come to me for petting. At least that makes them move around a little more!
If it's a hectic 2 hours, the last cat or two may only get 5 minutes of my attention because I want to give them some petting or a chance to stretch in the big room. But I figure that's better than nothing. And I can't spend too much time worrying about the cats that didn't have a chance to get attention that day or it would be too disheartening. I am only one person and I can only contribute a tiny piece to this very big puzzle. But so far, the volunteer experience has been positive and I look forward to going back another day and trying to help the animals just the little bit that I can.
Spay & Neuter graphic courtesy Tangri Adapt A Rescue