The comment was made at a workshop for non-profits to improve their networking, media or fund-raising skills. One by one we went around the room, introducing ourselves and our organizations. “I’m ___, and I’m with Paws and Claws Pet Shelter, in Huntsville, Arkansas. We’re a no-kill facility that finds homes for homeless animals.”
The next person to introduce herself paused as she adjusted her bracelets with perfectly manicured fingertips. “It’s nice that you take care of pets,” she said sweetly, “but what you do is easy. Anyone can find homes for cute puppies and kittens. My organization runs programs for developmentally disabled adults, and that is truly difficult.”
This wasn’t a one-time remark. Everyone who works in animal rescue has been condescended to by those who think we spend our time cuddling puppies and cooing over kittens. Running a shelter, people reason, isn’t real work, given the non-stop adorableness. The trouble was, this woman’s condescending remarks came at the end of an unusually difficult week. The staff had had to deal with problems brought to them by the public: an emaciated cat that died giving birth, an injured dog whose deep lacerations were filled with writhing maggots, and a litter of kittens left on the doorstep in the night, tightly sealed inside a plastic tote that had no air holes.
But good things also happen here – it’s what makes bad days bearable. No two days, no two sad stories – or even two happy adoptions – are alike.
The purpose of this blog is to tell the story of what goes on at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter on a regular basis. The staff is made up of Shelter Director Shonna Harvey, a veteran of over twenty years working in the field of animal rescue, and employees Jasmine Hill, Vanessa Taylor and Jennifer Bolinger. Asked why they do what they do – because there are certainly easier, cleaner and less stressful jobs – each one pauses. “I can’t not do this work,” Harvey says finally. “It’s who I am.” Jasmine Hill, the Animal Care Manager, says she never expected to become so deeply involved in shelter work but, “Once you start, it’s not something you can walk away from.” Taylor, who previously worked with preschool-aged children, as well as in Eldercare, echoes Harvey’s description of such work being a calling. “I feel called to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” says Taylor, who serves as Office Manager and Kennel Tech. Jenn Bolinger, also a Kennel Tech who spent years working in a veterinary office, says she wants to make a difference in animals’ lives, giving them help, support, safety and the second chance they deserve.
In addition to this staff, Paws and Claws has a large, unpaid supporting cast that includes the women who run a Thrift Cottage that raises money for the Shelter, a Board of Directors tasked with fund-raising, and a long list of volunteers. These volunteers run a monthly bingo fund-raiser, walk dogs and tame feral kittens, drive dogs to transports headed to other shelters, foster animals in their homes when the shelter is at capacity (which it almost always is) and serve in a many other areas. There are also approved rescue partners (no-kill shelters and rescues around the country who take our animals) as well as loyal local supporters and donors. Some days it really does take a village.
It wasn’t always this way. Less than four years ago Paws and Claws had one of the highest euthanasia rates in the reporting area (74 percent), but became a no-kill shelter when hiring Harvey. This amounts to more than having a policy of not killing dogs and cats to make room for more dogs and cats. With only eight dog kennels, one small room housing cats and kittens, and an even smaller quarantine room, there simply isn’t space for the volume of animals awaiting adoption. This means sending dogs to other no-kill shelters and breed-specific rescues across the country, and holding spay/neuter clinics in an attempt to decrease the tsunami of canines and felines pouring into the Shelter.
“We all feel personally responsible for every animal that needs us,” Harvey says of her staff and volunteers. “It hurts deeply when we’re told by someone, ‘I don’t have time to help this animal – I’ll just kill it.’”
In future blogs we plan to tell you about the goings on at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter, through stories about the animals we serve, and the people who adopt them. The accounts will be true, and honest, and we’ll try to strike a balance between gritty reality and the pleasures of kitten-cuddling.