Always Onward, Always

Doing animal rescue is the most wonderful thing in the world some days and other days it can wrench your heart out and stomp on it. A couple of weeks ago we lost one of our favorites, and it happened again last week, and will probably happen again this week or the next. One volunteer expressed so well what so many of us feel and think when this happens that I asked if she would allow me to share it here. She graciously agreed.

Thoughts on the Death of Nancy Botwin:

So many animals enter and leave the lives of shelter volunteers and staff. The Wake County Animal Center takes in a staggering 18,000 animals a year. 18,000! [emphasis mine] While the shelter does euthanize animals per county mandate, I strongly object to the term “kill shelter.” The final stop on my volunteer orientation tour was the door of the euthanasia room. R, our Volunteer Coordinator and tireless animal advocate, pointed to the room and said, “Our job as volunteers and staff members is to try to prevent every animal we receive from going through that door.” We do everything humanly possible to do just that. And our rescue partners and fosters are the true heroes when it comes to sheer numbers saved. But the number of animals surrendered outweighs the resources available to save them.

Every volunteer has his or her favorite animals – the ones who tug at our heart. Mine was Nancy Botwin. She wasn’t the prettiest, she wasn’t the best behaved, but she was among the neediest. And one of the hardest for us to place. She had horrible facial scars. She was far too interested in cats to be safely placed in a home with feline family members. But she had an unlimited capacity for love, as most dogs do. I was asked many times why I did not adopt her. My answer was G and N – my two cats. But the larger picture answer is this – they all need homes and while I have rescued many animals, I can’t take in 18,000 a year. That is why I volunteer.

I am often asked how I can stand it. Isn’t it hard? Of course. But all things truly worth doing are hard. One of our fosters said at a meeting that she often gets asked how she can foster dogs. People say, “I’m too soft hearted. I could never let them go.” But the beautiful truth is, foster families fight through that heartache, and that one volunteer mentioned above has fostered over 40 dogs. When you adopt a dog, you save one dog. And that’s great! She has saved over 40. That’s heroic, in my opinion.

So who’s to blame? There are many answers, and all of them valid – our throw-away society, irresponsible pet owners who do not neuter their animals, irresponsible breeders, puppy mills, and even the AKC and NRA who actively fight legislation to regulate puppy mills. What can you do to help? ADOPT, DON’T SHOP! Save a homeless pet instead of buying a purebred. Volunteer. Foster. Donate. Spread the word.

Tonight the shelter staff and volunteers mourn Nancy Botwin. We all tried so very hard to get her adopted. And we are heart-broken. But we won’t give up. Tomorrow we will receive 20-40 new animals who need homes just as badly as she did. This weekend I will walk shelter dogs, and facilitate adoptions, and find a new favorite to champion. I will never forget Nancy, but I will work very hard to save the next one. And the next one. And the next…

Photos by Mary Shannon Johnstone - Landfill Dogs project

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