By Kim Wake
This week we welcome guest blogger Kim Wake. Kim and her husband Justin are Old Dog Haven foster parents of Jerry and Winston and she has a job (and a perspective) that I think will interest you. Thanks for what you do Kim, and for sharing your views with our readers. File this one under hope for the future.
I adore Old Dog Haven and everything it stands for and does. Old Dog Haven makes a difference for the old dogs of today, and I would like to offer a perspective about making a difference NOW for the old dogs yet to come.
I used to be a vet tech and had a “if you can’t afford them, you shouldn’t have them” attitude about pet stewardship, but my perspective has done a 180 degree turn around since working in the capacity that I do now. The program I run is called Pets for Life, based on a model program run by the Humane Society of the United States.
I started working in community outreach last fall at the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County. My job involves extending services (like free spay/neuter and limited veterinary services), providing supplies (like cat carriers, flea meds, collars, etc.), and offering resources (like advice on scratching furniture, digging holes, peeing in the house, etc) to underserved areas of Tacoma.
The truth is, no matter how anyone feels about whether or not people “should” have pets, people who love animals are going to have pets in their lives. Over 20 million pets live in poverty with their people. I know without a doubt that if my life circumstances were to change tomorrow and I could no longer afford to have pets, I would still have them because I simply can’t imagine my life without them. I would hope that I could provide everything they need, and I’m sure I would feel guilty and selfish if I couldn’t provide for their needs, but I would still have pets because I can’t conceive of how quiet and empty my life would feel in their absence.
In my work, I set any judgment aside and meet people where they are in an attempt to make their lives and the lives of their beloved pets better and easier. This whole approach is frequently referred to as “sheltering in place”—providing assistance and removing barriers for families in an effort to make sure their pets stay in the homes they have, rather than ending up surrendered at shelters.
For example: If I can share information about potty training and help someone spay their puppy for free, perhaps in 10 years that dog won’t be living outside (because the people didn’t know how to appropriately potty train and had to move the dog outside because they were worried about the financial repercussions of damage to their rental home) and have had several litters of puppies (because stray dogs keep getting into the yard and the folks can’t afford to fix the fence of the home that belongs to an unresponsive landlord) and be at higher risk for health issues (the owners can’t afford to take the pet to the vet). In that scenario, that dog may very well have ended up surrendered to a shelter. While it would be tempting to vilify those owners—unaltered dog lives in the back yard for 10 years, having puppies several times, and ends up surrendered when it develops tumors and illness—what my job has taught me is that this is rarely the full story. More likely it was as I described above—owners couldn’t afford a spay and didn’t know how to potty train, circumstances snowballed, time passed, and due to lack of resources the people felt helpless to change the life of their pet. When the pet became ill, they surrendered it to the shelter in a last desperate attempt to save that pet’s life. And in all likelihood when their neighbor’s dog had puppies a few months later, they took one in and began that cycle again because they just didn’t know anything different.
In my capacity, if I can step in and offer a voucher to get their pet altered and vaccinated for free, offer advice on potty training, provide a free crate for crate training and protecting the rental property they occupy, and offer free training classes so that their dog can experience life as a well-mannered member of their family, then perhaps I am able to interrupt that cycle and make a difference for that pet and that family permanently.
I explain all of this to say that for me it actually helps me to think about my Old Dog Haven dogs this way: not as unloved or unvalued their whole lives, but as beloved members of the families that they once had … families who couldn’t afford their care and made a last selfless sacrifice to surrender them to a shelter in the hopes that they could get the help they needed. I feel honored to share my life with these guys, and am eternally grateful to Old Dog Haven for allowing me to spoil them for all of the days that they have left. But I hope that one day, thanks to programs like mine, by changing the lives of pets living in poverty one tiny story at a time, by speaking out about having compassion for folks who are doing their best to provide for themselves and their furry family, and by extending a hand to help rather than pointing a finger to judge, maybe one day the world won’t need Old Dog Haven to take in senior dogs from shelters because these pups will be lucky enough to live their whole lives with the people they’ve known and loved since their beginnings.
I love my job so much. People are so grateful to have someone bring the offer of support to them. I’m always so surprised at how many people welcome me into their homes and how it so often has never occurred to them that there may be services available for their pets. I get to witness so much love, literally on a daily basis.