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Making Animal Shelters Better
Fostering can be the key
Christine with one of her many foster Pits.

I’ve been working in animal shelters for more than 25 years and I fall in love almost every day.  I get my heart broke just about every day too but it’s worth it to get to spend time with and help so many amazing dogs and other animals. I started as a shelter volunteer, then a kennel cleaner and have worked in just about every capacity since then. I’ve done temperament testing, adoption counseling, vet tech, management and now animal control officer. I’ve seen a lot of improvements in sheltering over the years and I’ve seen a lot of shelter bashing.

I recently saw a comment on social media where the person stated that “all shelters suck.” That was painful to read and certainly not true. Often shelters are the first place an animal hears a kind word or gets the medical care they need. It can be a place to recover from abuse or find a forever home, to learn to trust or learn social skills that will help them get adopted. I have seen so many dogs come into our shelter as miserable, broken shells and prance out the door, shiny and healthy and full of life, ready to take on the world with their adopters. I’ve also seen dogs returned to frantic owners after the shelter took them in and kept them safe. Lots of happy reunions happen in shelters.

All shelters need community involvement to reach their full potential though and it’s true that many shelters aren’t performing at their best whether it’s due to lack of resources, overwhelming populations, poor management or other issues. It’s so easy to criticize but so hard to roll up our sleeves and make a difference. Even a small donation or just an hour a week can make life sweeter for shelter dogs. There are so many ways that a little time can make a big difference. Walking dogs, doing some training, working at adoption events and photographing adoptable dogs can all help a dog find a new home. Some of our local groomers even come in and donate grooming. There’s nothing like seeing some dirty, matted, neglected dog transformed into a sweet smelling beauty.

Recently some of our shelter volunteers have seen an area of huge need and addressed it. Our shelter, like so many others, has been inundated with large, energetic, untrained dogs, many of them bully breeds. The public isn’t always eager to adopt these rowdy pups and they were being overlooked in our kennel. One volunteer, Christine, saw the issue and started fostering these dogs one by one in her home. She teaches them some manners, learns what their strong and weak points are and posts the heck out of them on social media. Dogs that had been in the shelter system for many months sometimes get adopted within days of going into foster care. Christine even started a Facebook page called The Tiny Pit Bull to promote these dogs. She works together with some of our photographers and they, along with the rest of the staff and volunteers, are making a huge difference in improving life for our shelter dogs. Christine’s involvement has encouraged others to help and its changing our shelter for the better.

Fostering can have life changing and even life saving benefit for shelter dogs. Some dogs are too sensitive to thrive or show their best in a shelter environment. They may be shut down, huddled in the back, growling in terror or refusing to interact. Many of these dogs blossom almost immediately once in a home, others take longer, but all can improve in the right situation. Yes it’s hard to part with them when they leave for their new homes. Yes we choke back tears when we say good-bye, but it’s not about us, it’s about the dog getting a great home. And if heaven forbid, you just can’t part with the foster, then an animal still gets a great home and the foster gets a loving companion.

It’s time to be the change we want to see in our local shelters. The animals need us. What do you do to make a difference?

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

Photography by Alison Fraser

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