Saturday, December 24, 2016

Animal Welfare

Many people classify themselves as either a dog or cat person. There are greeting cards, joke books, coffee mugs and probably hundreds of other things you can buy to suit your personality. I have never really considered myself as a dog or cat person. I like both dogs and cats, even though I have no pets.

The main reason I don't have a pet is that it has always felt like too much responsibility. For a long time, I was working so many hours and sometimes travelling on a few days notice. I was never around to take care of a pet. My life was not structured in a way that I could be home to feed and walk the dog on a regular schedule. And it didn't seem fair to the animal to leave it locked up all day.

Lately, I have been feeling really connected with animals. And not just pets. It started with the deer in our neighborhood. We are fortunate to live in an area where they roam about freely. Mark Johnson and I see them on our evening walks, or when we are driving to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. Even though it is fairly common to see them, it always feels like a special gift from the universe. They are so majestic and yet completely passive and peaceful. They have an enviable grace in the way they carry themselves. I am mesmerized.

In early December we had a blast of really cold air. Some of the nights were below freezing. And I started to wonder where the deer would go to find shelter. Mark Johnson assured me that they are ok. They shed their summer coat and grow a winter coat that is much thicker to protect them from the cold and snow. And they instinctively know where to find food to survive. That may all be true, but it doesn't stop me from wanting to help the deer stay warm. In a way, I feel like they are our "neighborhood pets" and we should try to take care of them.

So I came up with this idea for a heated deer shelter in the winter. It could be set out in one of the parks and have solar powered heaters on the ceiling. We could stock it with carrots and whatever else the deer eat. And it could be a warming station where they could huddle together on the really cold nights. I have no idea how I would actually go about creating this shelter, but I keep thinking about it.

Then there are the birds. We have a blue jay who lives in the tree outside our bedroom window. I am sure he has friends in the neighborhood, but he seems to live alone. On summer mornings, I hear his bird cry as I wake up. I always joke that he is making the call to try and find some friends to hang out with him. I decided one morning that I would like to get a bird feeder for our balcony so he and his friends can have something to eat this winter.

A few weeks ago, I had a vision during one of my meditations. In the distance, I could see images of dogs. They were almost like photos, with just the dog's face showing. There were two or three different images. A few days later, I woke up with Mark Johnson on a Saturday morning and we were just talking in bed. As we watched the snow fall outside our window, I started thinking about the animals and suddenly I had an idea that I should volunteer at a local shelter. I have never done this before, but it seemed like something I should try. And then I remembered the faces of the dogs from my meditation. I wondered if that is what they were telling me.

I went online and started searching for local shelters in our area and one of the first sites I found was called Secondhand Mutts. I clicked on the page and saw photos of dogs that looked a lot like the ones I had seen in my meditation. Secondhand Mutts is a really special place. It is a cage-free shelter, meaning that they do not lock the dogs up. They have an open play area set up where they can roam freely and socialize with other dogs, much like in a home environment.

The more I learned about this place, the more interested I was in volunteering there. They have opportunities for dog walkers to come in and give the dogs special attention for a few hours. And they have a fostering program. I have always thought about fostering dogs, because I could give some love to a pet without the long-term commitment. And that is exactly what Secondhand Mutts offers. There are long-term foster parents, who keep the animal until they find a forever home, and there are weekend foster parents who just take the dog for a few days to give them a break from other dogs at the shelter or to give respite to a full-time foster family.

Right now, we may not be able to do it with our apartment, but someday I can definitely envision Mark Johnson and I fostering a dog together. We both have the same feelings about our level of commitment to having an animal in our lives. In the meantime, I signed up as a dog walker and also offered my services to help out at special events and fundraisers that may come up at the shelter.

The thing that impressed me the most about the shelter is the cage-free environment. Their motto is "Respect the Dog." The woman who runs the dog adoption program also has a doggy day care business in the same cage-free space. It is called the Mutt Hut. When I read her story online, it really resonated with me. Here is a person who loves animals. She has a viable business (the Mutt Hut) and that allows her to integrate a charitable aspect (Secondhand Mutts). It made me wonder how I might be able to do something similar in my own life. I would love to someday have a combined business and charitable venture.

More importantly, I love the idea of a cage-free shelter. So many people have a traditional idea of how to run a shelter and treat the animals. It is an institutional approach. Almost like dog jail. That is why I have felt so sad the few times I have visited an animal shelter. I look at the animals in the cages and I just feel so sorry for them. And so guilty that I can't take each one of them home with me. But this woman is doing it differently. Her website is fun and lively. It talks about the dogs as if they are people and celebrates their unique personalities.

It is so inspiring to see someone do things differently and question the way things have always been. I read an article recently that said something to the effect that if you're feeling like you don't fit in, it is because there is something in this world that you are meant to change. This woman found her calling to change the way we treat animals. I wonder what my calling is. Maybe it will be to create the first deer warming station in Westlake, Ohio.

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