I have so much to say.
My head is spinning with all I want to tell you—the extra three dogs in my house, their stories, the impending puppies, Frankie’s new classes, news of the book’s travels.
I’ll get to all of it, but if you want quick pictures and updates, you can always jump over and join the Another Good Dog facebook group where I try to post daily doses of my foster world. You can also sometimes catch updates on previous foster dogs there, which is always a treat (hint, hint to you adopters!).
But first, I need to tell you about my other shelter visits.
On Friday, I said a teary good-bye to Lisa whose friendship and positive presence (and tweets) had supported me all week. It felt like I was saying good-bye to a fellow soldier who was headed home for leave, while I marched on in battle with my newest recruit.
I picked up my newest co-pilot, my husband Nick at the Atlanta airport and we set off for Chattanooga, TN. I’ve never been to Chattanooga, but quickly fell in love with this charming little city nestled in the mountains.
We arrived just in time for a signing at Star Line Books run by a sparkly, fun woman named, of course, Star. We partnered with the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga and they brought out a gorgeous adoptable German Shepherd named Cruz and a pack-n-play full of kittens.
We had a lively discussion in which I tried to delicately, but not too delicately, share the realities of what I’d been seeing in my shelter visits and answered a few questions about the book and fostering. By the time we left, Star had decided that she would begin fostering adoptable kittens for HESC in her shop. It was exciting to see the magic of the book’s message work right in front of my eyes.
The next day we trucked over to Franklin, TN for an event at Nashville Pet Products with RARE (Rural Animal Rescue Effort). We met Trisha as she was unloading animals and setting up. Trisha is the force behind RARE and fosters most of RARE’s animals at her house. She is smart and committed and her energy was admirable. I cannot imagine doing what she does. We also met Laura, who is a volunteer with both RARE and Maury County Animal Shelter where we were headed that afternoon. (in the picture below, that’s Laura on the left and Trisha on the right)
While I sold very few books, RARE did attract lots of potential adopters. I enjoyed getting to know Trisha and Laura and was astounded at all that they do in every waking moment of their free time.
In addition to caring for many animals at her home, Trisha processes all the applications that come into RARE and drives animals to potential adopter’s homes. That way she can see if the home and adopters are appropriate for the dog (or cat or bunny!). And she does this (very well) on a shoestring budget made up of donations and (I’m sure, but she didn’t say this) her own money. As I said earlier, the woman is a force, an amazing, compassionate, animal-hearted force who is saving many, many lives in rural Tennessee.
I met some gorgeous RARE dogs and puppies at the event:
After the event, we followed Laura to Trisha’s house to unload (Trisha was taking several dogs to a potential adopter’s house) and met even more dogs, puppies, cats, and bunnies:
Next, we went to Maury County Shelter where Laura introduced us to some of the staff and we got a tour. Once again, we were told that the shelter is at capacity and once again we met many, many gorgeous adoptable dogs. It was a Saturday afternoon so Maury County was buzzing with visitors and adopters and even a few volunteers.
Maury County is an open intake shelter. They do ask why someone is dumping their animal and try to deter them, but they can’t say no, so they take them all. Dogs are held in a ‘stray hold’ area sometimes for 4-6 weeks before the shelter is able to process them (shots, assessment) and move them to the adoptable room.
This dog, whom I called Bandit but who, like every dog in Stray Hold, hasn’t been given a name, has been at Maury for over a month. This gorgeous, adoptable, friendly, sweet dog has been living in a tiny space with nearly no human or canine interaction all this time. Yet, I don’t think I’m alone in looking at that face and knowing that if he was my foster dog, I’d be lucky to have him a week. Adopters would line up for him.
Instead, he sits in Stray Hold and no adopters and no rescues can touch him. Maury County doesn’t even have a website with pictures of the animals on it. It won’t be until he moves to the Adoptable room when Laura will be able to take his picture and post it on Pet Finder that anyone will even know he exists beyond the inmate who cleans his kennel and the employee who (finally) assesses him and moves him to the Adoptable room.
We toured the stray hold area, and I’m certain that long wait in such a dark, noisy, tiny space could breakdown a lot of dogs before they even have the chance at rescue or to meet potential adopters. It was heartbreaking to see sad face after sad face. Most kennels were about 3 X 5 and had no bedding and no toys. An employee explained that they cannot have bedding or toys because they get ripped up and then clog the drains that run under the kennels for cleaning.
The dogs are taken outside(individually) to small fenced areas and left to play by themselves (again with no toys) for the time it takes the local inmates clean their kennel. The inmates also sometimes walk the dogs through the halls of the shelter when it is closed to give them some exercise.
Maury is able to adopt quite a few dogs out because they are so close to Nashville, but they can’t keep up with the influx and rely on rescue to move the others.
That’s where Laura comes in. Laura gets to know the dogs in the Adoptable area, contacts rescues (all over the country) and drives dogs to meet rescue transports. For many years she did this in vans she rented with her own money.
She is a cheerful and smart woman who stays focused on the dogs, despite what must be a frustrating situation for her at Maury County. Because she is a volunteer and not an employee, she isn’t given access to the dogs in the Stray Hold area (where the majority of the dogs are).
Laura has worked hard to find and connect with rescues all over the country in her efforts to save as many dogs as she can from Maury County. She is quite literally responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of dogs. Talk about a rescue rockstar. I enjoyed spending my day with her and know if I lived closer we’d be fast friends.
What struck me the most about this shelter was the defeated attitude of the staff. They didn’t feel there was any way to improve the situation for the dogs. I only popped in briefly, so maybe I’m not privy to the history here. Maybe they’ve tried before and failed, but for a large, well-built facility with a large staff (none of which have to clean kennels since the local inmates are brought in to do that), plenty of open space outside, and what seemed like a willing volunteer pool, the living conditions in that shelter should be better. I kept thinking what Sherry and Helen from Lenoir County would do with a space and staff like this.
I offered to secure Maury County Karunda beds for the dogs so they would have something softer than the hard shelf they currently have but was told the director would not allow them. The employee who gave us a tour, explained why they wouldn’t work – something to do with the drains again. My engineer husband took a look at the situation and quickly sketched out a way to easily modify the space to make them work, but the employee just shook her head and moved on with the tour.
I offered to send toys to help ease the boredom of the dogs held so long in Stray Hold, and again was told they would block the drains. Finally, the employee relented that large size Kongs might be okay. I’m guessing the bedding/toy situation is not something she feels she can influence. I also felt there was more she would have said if she could, but she was doing her job.
Because the shelter hadn’t requested anything but cleaning supplies when I’d ask what I could bring, Laura had shared the need for the bowls which attach to the kennels, giving the dogs a tiny bit more floor space. I’d sent twenty bowls the previous week purchased with donations from readers and friends, and they were already installed in the kennels. Nick and I did leave them with a few things, including food to give to new adopters or to perhaps holdoff an owner surrender.
I was disappointed that the director wasn’t at the shelter when we were there. I’m still mulling over what I’d like to say to her and how to say it in a constructive and helpful, not judgmental way.
I don’t know her or where she is coming from as she makes the decisions for the shelter. After all I’ve seen on this tour, I completely understand the impossible job she has. I want to find the words to support her, but also to motivate her to try some of the things that are so clearly working at Anderson County PAWS, which has a similar size building likely built around the same time.
The differences between the two places in terms of the emotional health of the dogs and the attitudes of the staff were night and day. And I can’t help but think one affects the other. It has to be hard to see so many sad dogs day after day. It surely wears on a soul.
But something can be done here. I’m beginning to realize that perceptions have to change first before anything else can change in these shelters. The employees must decide that the situation is fixable and that it’s in their power to fix it. They have to be open to new ideas and let go of their understandably defeated attitudes. I’m sure every one of them started their work at the shelter because they love animals and want to help them find homes. But the never-ending onslaught of unwanted animals and their needs could crush just about anyone’s spirit.
It’s very tempting to call this shelter out on much of this situation, but Laura has instead chosen to focus on the dogs and do all that she can. Her patience with the situation and her commitment to the dogs is remarkable. She’s a model for the rest of us. Do what you can and steadily work for change.
This is gonna take all of us, but I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling the shelter directors as I follow up with them—I’m not finished. I’m not gonna shut up. This is a solvable problem and until we solve it, I’m going to keep working at it.
I just need to find a bigger microphone.
I’ve got one more shelter to tell you about and that will lead into what’s happening in my puppy room. Look for a post about all that in the next few days!
Thanks for reading!
Tonight I’ll be in Frederick, Maryland at Barley & Hops with my books, helping OPH to raise money and save more dogs. We’ll have adoptable dogs with us, plus information on the rescue, and one of the dogs from the book will be there to sign with me!
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check out my new website, AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, event schedule, and more!
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present and extra puppy pictures, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available for preorder now: