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(This post was written last week. The two dogs, Albert and Layla, mentioned in here have been adopted since then.)

Sunday afternoon at Toronto Animal Services South. I'm upstairs in the office with Jen and Shannon talking about the new restaurants in the neighbourhood. Someone brings in a cardboard box.

Jen looks inside.

"It needs water," she says. "Looks like it's been poisoned or something."

I look into the box and see a black cat, bone thin, tear encrusted eyes, trying to hold itself up against the side of the box.

"We need to get it to the emergency clinic," Jen says. "Are you a boy or a girl?" she asks and checks as she gently transfers the cat to a proper carrier. "Oh, you're a girl."

"How do you know she's been poisoned," I ask.

"Dilated pupils. She can barely stand. She's dying. It might be something else but it looks like poison. The vet will find out and let us know."

There are no drivers available to take the cat to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic downtown so Jen decides to take the cat herself. It'll take an hour and a half to make the return trip so she'll have to stay late that night at the shelter to finish her work there.

I walk downstairs with Albert, a Poodle, and on the way see Layla behind the front desk. Layla is a small, fragile white Maltese who had been used as a breeding dog for her whole life of seven years. She looks up at me, curious, not nearly as shy anymore as the last time I saw her.

Layla is still on pain killers and is waiting on an all-clear from the vet before she goes into adoption (update: please note that as of this posting, Layla has been adopted).

James walks in through the front door. It's his day off so he's wearing civilian clothes. He's got a cat carrier and I look inside but the dark silhouette doesn't look feline.

"What've you got?" I ask.

"Domestic duck," James says. "There's a bunch of them out by ---------."

"What do you mean, domestic?"

"They were kept by someone and then dumped. They don't know how to take care of themselves on their own."

"You must've had a fun time catching them."

"The first bunch were easy. I just stood there and they came running to me biting at my legs because they were all starving. Now the rest are a little more skittish. This one I had to spend the afternoon out there, trying to tempt it with food and then I netted it." As he walks away to the temporary duck pen, James says, "The other ones brought in have already been rehomed. I'll have to find a place for this one."

I take Albert outside. Albert was found with 13 other poodley dogs in an apartment where the original call to the city was for a bug infestation. All the others have already been adopted or fostered out. Albert is the last one. He's a sad little guy with a quizzical expression on his face. It had taken him weeks to come out of his shell and take his first intrepid steps outside. Now he's still a little uncertain at times but mostly trots along beside me as we walk.

It's cold out. I've put Albert's Christmas sweater on him and he seems to be doing okay. I'm pretty sure he'll be home before Santa comes calling (update: please note that as of this posting, Albert has been adopted).

I haven't been spending as much time at the shelter these last few weeks and sometimes I ask myself why I keep going at all. Is it guilt? A sense of responsibility? No, if it were just that, I would have abandoned the cause long ago. I go because there are the animals, of course, and the sense of groundedness they provide me. There are the photos and the writing which are a creative outlet and make me think I may be doing something useful when I post them online. But a large part of it, something which I hadn't thought about until recently, is that it allows me to be around people who care, who spend their lives caring and who act upon that care. It's a shelter not just for the animals but also against a world fixated on selfish things. In many ways, it's a shelter against the momentum of my own life.

10 Comments to “Shelter”

  1. deva says:

    Wonderful post. Any update on the poisoned cat? Keeping fingers crossed she is okay.

  2. Nikki says:

    You do such a great job, Fred! Keep up the great work! There are days I feel like giving up because of knee problems, but my love for dogs keeps me going every Thursday morning (will be in afternoons next year).

  3. You make me cry. I don't know how you do it, yet I want to do it too.

  4. monica says:

    There are so many people like myself who love these blog posts and appreciate the time you take to share these animals' stories... we are so so grateful for you work - thank you!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Keep up the amazing work!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love reading your posts, you make me want to adopt every dog you photograph and write about. And, you made me realize that I volunteer at my local shelter for the same reasons. I love interacting with the animals and you're right, it helps to see firsthand that people DO care. And they do. And you do. Thank you!

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful piece of writing Fred! Not only are you helping the dogs with you compassionate and sometimes amusing descriptions of them along with those beautiful photographs that show them off so well to prospective owners.

    I am sure there are many people who are comforted by hearing of the dogs that find forever homes and seeing the follow ups from wonderful new owners. As you so wisely say all of us who care need to hear that there are compassionate people in this world that can often seems so cruel and bleak. Thank you for all that you do to make that world a kinder place

  8. Cathy says:

    Keep up the wonderful work you do, we love your posts too..

  9. Fred says:

    Hi Deva, I'm afraid the cat did not make it past the day.

  10. Anonymous says:

    You're doing important work that I—as one of many, including all the critters—am grateful for. If the work and the animals keep you grounded, you are doing the right thing for you. And when your heart hurts, it must be because it's having growing pains.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.