Where do you get your animals?
It’s one of the most common questions we get at weekend adoptions: Where does Much Love get our animals? Almost all of the dogs and cats in our care come from local shelters. When we’ve found new homes for enough animals to make room for more, it’s time for a shelter pull. Several of our longtime volunteers have been trained for this emotionally challenging task. For every animal they take out of the shelter, there are hundreds more they must leave behind.
How do they decide which animals to rescue? They start with some limits. Based on the availability of foster homes and boarding space, the volunteers know how many animals they can pull. They also know whether Much Love currently has, for example, a lot of large dogs in our care, and needs more small dogs to appeal to a wider pool of potential adopters. That still leaves the difficult job of selecting a few rescues from a shelter full of candidates.
The process is different for cats and dogs. To evaluate potential new Much Love dogs, volunteers first walk through the aisles of cages to observe the animals’ behavior. Bad signs in a dog include charging the fence aggressively, cowering at the back of the cage and neurotic or anxious behavior like spinning. Volunteers hope to see a happy, friendly dog who gets along with his cagemates and is curious about strangers. When they identify a promising dog, the volunteers will walk him past other cages on a leash to see his interaction with other animals. The shelter can be a noisy, chaotic place. A dog who remains calm and sociable in this environment is likely to be psychologically healthy. Most shelters have an enclosed “get to know you” area for people and their potential pets. Much Love volunteers spend at least ten or fifteen minutes with each animal, one-on-one. They evaluate the dog’s personality. They see how he reacts to being played with, and to being ignored. Then they try to annoy him. A volunteer will handle a dog’s ears and paws, look in his mouth, poke at him and roll him on his back. The idea is to find out how much the dog will tolerate without showing aggression. This is followed by the treat test – not to discover which flavor the dog prefers, but how gently he takes a treat from someone’s hand and to identify any food-aggression issues. All of this is done very carefully, of course. If the volunteers feel uncomfortable at any time, the testing will stop.
Cats are more difficult to evaluate in shelter conditions. Some will come forward easily and meow for attention. Most are less sociable with strangers and take time to show their true personalities.
Some cats are so frightened, they’re mistakenly classified as feral. The shelter workers who care for the cats are often the best source of information about their animals. They can identify which cats are aggressive and which are more likely to become good pets.
Now the difficult decisions begin. Volunteers check the shelter’s “red list” to find out which animals are getting close to the deadline for euthanization. They consult shelter workers about great dogs or cats they may have overlooked. Ideally, volunteers want to pull animals who can quickly find adoptive homes, allowing Much Love to rescue even more animals. But they must balance this against the desire to help animals who might have a harder time attracting a new owner’s eye. Dogs classified as pit bulls, for example, are often difficult to adopt out simply because of their bad reputation, but experienced Much Lovers know what wonderful pets they can be. A sick or injured animal poses another kind of dilemma. They require more vet care and more resources but, once healthy, may be someone’s ideal companion. It’s a tough call.
Ultimately, the Much Love volunteers must trust their instincts and best judgment about which dogs and cats to take into our care. But the process isn’t over yet. They must fill out forms to officially take custody of each animal and pay the necessary fees. Fortunately, as a nonprofit rescue group with 501c3 status, Much Love gets a discount. In addition to lots of paperwork, volunteers get the fun task of naming each new dog and cat. They often choose themes, such as the recent “cocktail” theme which gave us cats named Gimlet, Mojito and Mimosa. Animals have also been named after sponsors, celebrity supporters and even in honor of deceased friends or relatives.
Going on a shelter pull is a deeply emotional experience. These volunteers get the satisfaction of rescuing a group of dogs and cats who will remain safely in the care of Much Love until they find their forever homes. At the same time, it’s impossible to forget the animals they left behind. Volunteer Jessica Altman confesses that “after each pull, I go home and cry.” Yet she keeps going back to save more animals, looking forward to the day when shelter pulls – and shelters themselves – are no longer necessary.
By volunteer Lisa Klink