By Joanna Dunn Samson, FOTAS Vice President
Volunteering at an open admissions shelter is strictly a labor of love, particularly in a place like Aiken County where intake runs consistently between 4500 – 5000 animals every year. No one with a heart can witness the endless procession of abandoned cats and dogs without being profoundly affected.
Most of these animals have never been to a veterinarian. They have never been inoculated from preventable killer diseases like distemper, rabies or parvo. Most have spent their life outdoors, in many cases with no shelter from the elements, and in worst cases tethered to a chain their entire life. They are crawling with fleas and often riddled with parasitic worms, particularly heartworms, which are deadly left untreated. The majority are malnourished and underweight, their ribs protruding through a lifeless coat and skin rubbed raw from scratching at fleas or mange mites.
Virtually all of them are unsprayed or unneutered, left to breed indiscriminately. Females with health issues produce more sickly, unwanted puppies – many of which die from lack of basic care, or worse, from being tossed out of a moving car like a crumpled paper bag.
You think I am exaggerating? Sadly, I am not. By the time most of these animals make it to the shelter, they are sick and scared and anxious and justifiably wary of humans. Many are irreparably damaged – physically, emotionally or both – by neglect and abuse. In those cases, the best thing we can do is to end their misery by humane euthanasia.
As for the rest of them, Shelter staff and volunteers do what they can with the limited resources and time available. The animals are bathed, inoculated and treated for fleas and worms. They are sheltered from the elements and fed twice a day. When they are moved from intake to the adoption floor as limited space becomes available, they are fussed over by staff and volunteers. The dogs are walked and taught basic obedience skills to make them more adoptable. Without question, the care is basic and institutional – there are far too many animals to give them the same level of attention they would get in a responsible home – but in most cases, it’s the best care they’ve ever had.
This year we expect to save +/- 2950 animals. It’s not perfect, but compare that with the days before FOTAS and the new Shelter when annual intake reached a high as 6000+ animals and only 300 were saved. Thanks to the commitment of the County and FOTAS, that’s thousands of more animals saved in the past 5-6 years.
As for the other roughly 1900 animals that won’t make it out of the shelter this year – it’s tragically unfair and outrage is the proper response, but direct your outrage appropriately: at the people who won’t spay and neuter their animals, who allow their animals to breed indiscriminately, who never provided their animals with proper medical care, and who would just as soon dump their sick, unwanted animals on the taxpayers to clean up their mess rather than do the right thing.
In the meantime, do something positive to help the County and FOTAS save more animals. Volunteer your time. Foster. Donate money and supplies. And please, please adopt from the County Shelter and bless those animals with a life of love free from hunger and fear.
Without you, they are lost. Their lives are in our hands.
Merry Christmas and God Bless.