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Working at Animal Shelter Experience

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“You can take this one for a walk first. He just arrived last night.” The beautiful German Shepherd stared up at me with listless eyes. I had no idea what his name was, or even where to walk him, but looking at his confused face, I realized he was just as bewildered as I was. I grabbed a leash from the wall and went on the first of many long walks that I would take with other rescue dogs. I had wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter all my life, but living in South Korea where shelters are nonexistent, I had never had the chance. Now, however, my family and I were staying for a long visit in the United States, and I had my chance. After researching shelters in the area of Phoenix, where we were staying, I settled on Foothills Animal Rescue.

Foothills Animal Rescue is a vital and important addition to the community of Scottsdale, Arizona. Every year, in the United States alone, more than five million stray animals are admitted into animal shelters, and, sadly, of that number, five out of ten are destroyed from lack of adoption. Areas such as Phoenix, Arizona contribute significantly to these statistics. Maricopa County Animal Shelter, the major animal shelter for the Phoenix area, recorded receiving approximately 200 dogs and cats each day, and 50,000 animals each year. More than four of these animals are euthanized daily, simply because the facility does not have adequate accommodations for the growing population of strays. But Foothills Animal Rescue has committed to making a change for the better to these statistics; since 2010, the shelter has adopted out 618 cats and 552 dogs.

As a “no kill” shelter which takes in animals from multiple rescues, the public, as well as the local humane society, Foothills Animal Rescue understands that animals do not deserve to die simply because they have no home. Equipped with three non-cage cat rooms for kittens, grown cats, and those diagnosed with Feline Leukemia, ten spacious dog rooms, and a well equipped clinic, FAR can provide a true haven to animals, both short term and long term. Every animal that is taken in is given the best medical attention available, and automatically spayed or neutered. Each animal also receives a full round of vaccinations and is implanted with a microchip. Unlike many over-populated shelters anxious to place their animals in any home, FAR carefully screens potential adopters. Adoptees are judged on their care of previous pets, the amount of time they can dedicate to a new pet, and whether the size of their house is appropriate to the needs of the pet. With the adoption of a dog, the new owners receive a full medical history of the animal and thirty days of free pet insurance. Unlike other shelter, FAR goes an extra step and insists that should a change of situation occur, the pet is returned to the shelter in order to ensure the safest, happiest life for the animal.

Relying entirely on volunteers, donations, and the income of a nearby resale store, FAR still manages to create a enriching environment for the animals. Such amenities as indoor and outdoor play areas ensure that dogs always get their much needed romp. Large playgrounds keep the cats constantly entertained while music provides a calm environment for frequent napping. In addition, the shelter takes adoptable animals to weekly functions at popular pet stores. The shelter also provides educational tours and other community-awareness events on a regular basis. All of these efforts help to improve the plight of the many stray animals in need of stable, happy homes.

On my first day at the shelter, I walked, bathed, and fed dogs, cleaned their rooms, played with cats, and did whatever other odd jobs were needed. As I came daily, my confidence grew, and I began to feel at home at the shelter. I loved learning more about the care of the animals, and seeing how the shelter could make a positive change for any and every dog. There was Bella, the Great Dane, who had been adopted out, and then returned, due to family issues. Her spirit was broken, and you could see the sadness in her face; she had lost her trust in humans. But slowly, she began to warm to gentle care again, and soon she was given a happy home. Then there was Teddy, an adorable mixed breed who had been at the shelter for almost six months. I was so happy the day he was finally adopted I also loved being with the cats, especially the kittens, even though I was mildly allergic to them. I have never felt so proud as when an especially shy kitten I had been trying to befriend for weeks came and sat on my lap. Every dog and cat had a unique story and character and it was really amazing to be part of their stories.

No one shelter can “cure” the epidemic of irresponsible pet ownership in the United States, but FAR has made a true difference in lives of local animals. Many animals whose “time has run out” find refuge in the shelter where they are rehabilitated, socialized, and placed with a loving owner. The basic luxuries of a safe, stable environment with the promise of a “fur-ever home” are enough to give these abandoned and abused pets a second chance. Foothills Animal Rescue, though small and limited, meets a genuine need.

There are so many different ways to help when volunteering at the animal shelter, and I had the opportunity to experience many of these options. Not only do shelters need volunteers daily to assist in taking care of the animals basic needs, but assistants in on-site and off-site adoptions, those who can do office paper work, and fosters are also needed. Unlike volunteers who only stay with the dogs a few hours a day or even a week, a foster’s responsibility is twenty-four hours a day, until the dog gets adopted. Not only must you care for the basic needs of the dog, but also try to make him a better candidate for adoption. This involves working on behavioral issues such as aggression, fear, barking, or biting.

I had the privilege of fostering three dogs, a black lab-mix named Abel, who had a rough past, having lived in shelters most of his life with his violent brother. Before he could go to his new home, Abel had to learn how to live in a house with a family. The next dog I fostered was a sweet, timid Cairn Terrier named Tyler. I didn’t have him long (he was so cute, no one could resist adopting him!) but I loved that I got to help him get settled. My final foster dog was an elderly Jack Russel named Vincent. I had Vincent the longest, and enjoyed taking him on his first trip to a dog park ever, helping him learn basic tricks, and ultimately finding him a good home.

When it finally came time for me to return home to South Korea and leave FAR, it was with a heavy heart. I had gone almost every week-day and accumulated 150 hours, but I never had done it for the hours. I had learned so many things from the dogs, cats, and staff at the shelter, and had formed good friends, both canine and human. Overall, volunteering at the animal rescue was one f the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope that some day I
can return and that you too will see what a difference volunteering at an animal shelter can make in your life and the lives of needy animals.

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