this is a very generic heads up

Posted: April 24, 2008 at 6:56 am

to all who visit shelters and spend one on one time with animals. this is so utterly important to the quality of their daily life while they wait for their forever home.

BUT….be careful. be fair and kind….and understand their homelessness and abandonment from their point of view. some of them lost something when they entered the shelter…some of them lost a family they loved. some of them never had that at all but they find it in the wrong place. they don’t need to lose anything ever again so make sure you do not become another loss.

i think it is a bad idea to focus in on one animal and let them fall in love and then leave them, day after day, week after week. they think that they have gotten someone to love them and save them again, but when that one or two or three hour visit is done, they are abandoned again.

we have been thru this with copper a couple of times and then with phoebe just recently and i finally just “got it”…. what we were actually doing to them by focusing too much on them individually. they were becoming in their minds abandoned, each time their very special friend would leave. and i am sure it happens to many animals in the shelter system who make a very special connection with the people who care about them.

so i am thinking that this is a hard one…they need that extra one on one time…but how do we balance it for them so they enjoy it without becoming desolate when it ends. we want them to be happy and feel “gee that was fun and nice” but we don’t want them deeply mourning when it is over and their friend has gone home for the night.

i think it is about balance. and understanding that sometimes too much love in the wrong place, at the wrong time, can actually hurt. i think practicing inclusiness vs exclusiness can help to keep them on solid ground.
it is good and important to spend good quality time with them but keep a couple of things in mind…all shelters have alot of lonely animals, so spread yourself around. they see this sharing, they understand others get to haveone on one time too, they don’t get twisted up by exclusive focus and feel abandoned if the focus is not on them. keep it light and happy, try not to feed into their emotional loneliness and pain….encourage them to have fun, encourage them to look on the bright side, encourage them to make a healthy adjustment to shelter living while they have no other choice.

i think mo and nicole should run a workshop on this. they are the experts at having favorites and spending time with them without leaving them crippled when they leave.

there is a thing called “killing with kindness” especially where shelter animals are concerned. and i think the way to avoid it is to be aware that it is a huge risk. so if you are one of those special people who takes time out of your life to care for homeless animals….. remember that their home is currently a shelter, and their family is the staff and volunteers. help them all to not only accept this, but to find some happiness and safety and enjoyment in the sharing without feeling abandoned at the end of the day.

and that is my thought for today.

11 Comments on "this is a very generic heads up"

  • Jenine says

    BRILLIANT THOUGHT PUT INTO WORDS. Completely agree
    and very well said.

  • Shelley says

    I think this pertains almost exclusively to dogs, Carol. I think cats can deal with their solitariness and most horses would rather be with other horses, and pigs, well… I’m not sure about pigs. I think they like anybody with an apple.

    But dogs are different. I experienced just what you are talking about last year at a shelter with a dog and at the end of it ( when he finally got adopted ) I said, never again. Never again will I focus on one dog. He was a special case, but near the end I was chewing my fingernails down and not sleeping, and his heart was breaking more and more every time I left him. I had no intention of adopting or fostering him, but I took him out almost every day, and then left him behind again.

    Fortunately, other volunteers looked after him as well, but he wasn’t a big favourite with the staff. He was the kind of dog that desperately wanted to belong to someone. He found his family after almost a year, but I swore I would never, ever focus on one dog again, and I haven’t and never will.

  • Leila says

    Shelley I am not going to disagree with your emotions because those are your emotions and I can’t say I haven’t died inside at night worrying about a dog(s) that I spent extra specail time with in a shelter. But I would like you to consider one thing; what if you hadn’t spent almost every single day with him. What if he hadn’t made a special connection with you while waiting for his forever home? It may have been possible that he wouldn’t have made it out without your extra attention. Maybe he made it because of you. I think maybe it was your heart broken possibly more than his and you actually gave him a huge reason to keep moving forward.

    I am not going to disagree with everything Carol said. If you do choose to spend extra time with one, two, three animals in a shelter then make it fun. Don’t coddle the animal and allow him to give into his insecurities or otherwise you are not helping the animal at all. Help the animal to cope with his stress of living in a shelter by doing things with him that are fun, engage his mind and exercise him physically. I always encourage volunteers to come back and walk the same dog or dogs at a shelter so the dog can make a connection with a human. Making a connection with humans at the shelter will make it easier for the dog to connect to the person(s) who eventually adopts him. And for those dogs who do need extra attention, please yes do spend extra time with them. I have seen dogs lives saved because they got extra special attention from one or two volunteers. It allowed the dog to cope with living at the shelter. I know I have been involved with some of these dogs myself. They need that extra time spend with them more than some of the others or won’t make it out.

    Sorry Carol in my humble opinion, although you have some wonderful lessons to teach us, I don’t think all of them can be transfered to “traditional” shelters where dogs spend much of their time in a kennel. Your dogs are so lucky that they don’t have that extra stress added into their lives.

  • Shelley says

    Thanks, Leila, I appreciate that insight. And you may be right: it may have been more about me than him. I’m not sure what the right answer is, as I don’t know that much about dogs. Maybe I’m basing my opinion on my emotions rather than what really is best for the dog. Tough one.

  • Carol says

    i agree that all animals need one on one time, and some more than others and shelley is correct, this more about dogs than the other species.

    but there is a difference between spending quality time that has a purpose or goal, (teaching, socializing, exercising, and having fun) or going too far and emotionally investing to the point that they think they belong to you and are bewildered and hurt when they are left behind. participating in their unhappiness and focusing on just one can create an unhealthy dependency. if they see their caregivers working with others, they accept that sharing that person is just part of life. i still think it is better to take those 3 hours and spreading them around with some of the others will help prevent that dependency from forming. it will help the dog deal that whole abandonment issue in a fair and respectful way and not set them up for developing separation anxiety while in the kennels.

    when any of us send our dogs out into adoptive homes…what is the very first thing we stress for puppies, adults and seniors alike….5 times away from the house and the dog on the very first day and keep it up so they learn before they over bond that in this home, my people come and go and come back again and that is ok cuz that is the way it predictably is. we teach our adoptive families to prevent neurotic over bonding, we could do this with staff and volunteers maybe too?

  • I agree with Carol re; the too close for comfort as I went through so much over the rabbits when I was no longer able to take care of them, an occassional clean-up now and the rest is mainly visiting but I always pick up in turns and hold them as I have always worried about that. When clover was really ill I held him more but I made certain I held the others for a short period too as I was scared they would feel left out and the wonderful little guys literally cuddle Clover all together and make him feel safe. It is fantastic to see.
    We have lost 2 g-pigs and they are all Colton’s family and now he is alone. I used to take turns and hold all three of them when I cleaned their houses now I make sure I hold Colton every tine I am there, I love all of them and I want for all of them to know it. Eva

  • Deb says

    Shelley, Maverick learned how to accept love and kindness from you. He was a dog on the bubble, and had it not been for you, Susan and Alexa, Mav would almost certainly have gone kennel crazy.
    This was a dog who absolutely needed all the special attention he could get, 1:1, just to become normal enough to be considered adoptable. I know, as do others who witnessed your devotion to a dog that was not as easy to love as some of the others in the shelter at that time, how much of yourself you poured into making Maverick whole.
    Maverick was adopted a year and a week ago. Since that time, you have loved and nurtured many dogs, and your devotion has made a huge difference to them. Your “special” dogs are blessed, and even though you can’t give every dog in the shelter the intense support you give to those dogs who need you most, one dog at a time you are making a huge difference.

  • Shelley says

    You are a sweetheart to say that Deb. I know that every day people all over the world try to help these confused, lost creatures. They do a heck of a lot more than I ever did and they manage to keep doing the right thing in spite of what it costs them personally. So, if people like Carol can do what they do, I suppose I can figure out my little part! Cheers!

  • Deb says

    See, that’s where we disagree….I think volunteers, especially committed volunteers, those like you, Susan, Alexa, Dolores, Jeffrey….make huge differences, and in no way can it be described as “my little part”.
    Carol is amazing, as are the folks at Turtle Gardens, but rescuers at that level are few and far between, and they often almost lose themselves to the callings they are following.
    Volunteers, on the other hand, can walk away at any time. Some do, for various reasons, then there are the down and dirty, whatever it takes, blood, sweat and tears volunteers who take on the hard cases, like you did Maverick (and others) and guide them along, teach them, reach them, love them, cry for them, lose sleep for them, and once the long process of making them adoptable comes to a close, you let them go. That hurts.
    Where in that scenario is there room for “your little part”?

  • Carol says

    quite frankly…i rescue “my” way because i did not have the strength or fortitude to do it “their” way…it is way easier doing what i do when i get to call all the shots…i wouldn’t even try to do what volunteers like shelley and susan do, or even the regular paid staff…it would be too hard. (shhhh, don’t tell anyone but i am a control freak)

  • Leila says

    I totally agree with you Deb. There are a lot of volunteers come in and walk dogs and that in it self is so extremely important in a pound environment. But there are some volunteers who go past the walking and really help to socialize the dogs and help them to find someone who wants them for just being them. These volunteers are exceptional and few and far between. Your “little part” becomes a VERY BIG little part in the dogs life and ultimately in the life of the animal you connected to – ripples in the water.

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