Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which marks the beginning of the holiday season. The day after is Black Friday, which marks the day when a high percentage of the population goes completely bonkers. The holidays will also have a tremendous impact on every animal shelter and rescue – both good and bad.
First, the bad: people seem exceptionally prone to dumping animals.
Shelter employees tell story after story of people surrendering their animals “because we’re going to be traveling and just don’t have time for him.” These are followed closely by “donors,” as in “I’m donating my old dog to the shelter because we’re getting a puppy and don’t need him anymore.” The holidays also seem to be a popular time of year for moving – to planets that don’t allow pets. The cold weather brings in a lot of strays who go looking for warmth in people homes, barns, and garages, and then end up in the shelter.
The result is crowded shelters. The high numbers put a strain on their limited resources. Food stores get used up quickly, medical needs pile up, and shelters run out of cage space. It’s not pretty.
Now let’s talk about the good: people really do want to help.
During the holidays, volunteerism spikes. People get into the holiday spirit, and they actively seek out ways to help others. Adoptions go up, especially right before Christmas. Donations pour in: food, cash, blankets, beds, towels, you name it. New volunteers sign up to work at shelters and rescue events. Enthusiasm runs high.
And then there’s the weird part:
One of the stranger things that emerges from the uptick in adoptions and volunteerism is the tendency of the general public to forget that shelter workers and volunteers have homes and families. Rescue volunteers, in particular, often get insistent demands from enthusiastic potential adopters to deliver the new puppy on Christmas morning with a red bow – and can you be there at 7:15 when we wake the kids up? Parents scrambling for last minute gifts have been known to call volunteers at 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve and announce that they’ll be right over with their three kids to pick out a dog. I’ve even heard of a couple of cases of potential adopters literally showing up at a rescuer’s home unannounced – which is why it’s very important to have a PO Box on your official paperwork, folks.
And something about the holiday spirit of acquisitiveness makes adopters very impatient with the usual rescue process. They simply can’t understand why they should have to wait around for vet checks, lengthy applications, and home visits. Dear adopters, please remember that the process exists for the safety of the animal, and no good rescue will compromise on that.
If you’re looking for a way to do some good, I have a few suggestions:
First, if you want to donate to a shelter or rescue, find out what they need. Money is always welcome, of course! Some of the most needed items for shelters include:
Good quality food (canned and dry, for dogs and cats)
Want to think outside the box? Your shelter might also need:
Office supplies (pens, cardstock for kennel cards, clipboards, metal rings to hand them with, etc)
Veterinary equipment (ask your shelter vet what she needs!)
Puppy or kitten formula
Baby food (pureed meats) for sick animals
Lysine supplements for cats
Disposable cardboard carriers
Disposable cardboard litter boxes (think the flat cardboard trays that canned goods are packed in.)
Second, this is a great time to express your appreciation to the staff or volunteers for all their hard work in a very tough job. You might donate gift cards, have a meal or basket of treats delivered, or do something as simple as providing hot coffee or hot chocolate to everyone. If you live in a very cold climate, a great gift would be warm work gloves for all the kennel workers. You could donate a prize for the employee of the month. Be creative!
For all my readers, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a healthy dose of holiday spirit. Now get out there and volunteer!