I have to hand it to the staff and my fellow volunteers at our large municipal animal shelter: they’re always coming up with creative ways to get our animals into the public eye and promote adoptions.
Three days before Valentine’s Day, the shelter held a “Speed Dating” event.
The concept was based on research showing that most people make up their minds about adopting an animal (or choosing a potential romantic partner?) within eight minutes of meeting him or her. (For me, it took much less time: I made up my mind about Ruby, our adopted shelter dog, the very first moment we locked eyes — she a winsome seven-month-old stray, I a new shelter volunteer looking for someone to fill the dog-shaped hole in my heart ever since the death of our golden retriever, Rufus, seven months earlier.)
The shelter was decorated with hearts and cupids and pink and white crepe paper streamers. Volunteer “matchmakers” with stopwatches waited at the six meet-and-greet rooms. Visitors roamed through the wards of adoptable animals and chose the ones they would like to meet; when they entered the room with a dog or cat, the clock would start running. At six minutes, the potential adopters would get a two-minute warning. If, at eight minutes, they weren’t ready to make up their minds but still wanted to consider the animal, they could take their place at the end of the line and hope that when their turn came again their chosen dog or cat would still be available.
If, however, they decided that they had met their perfect match, off they’d go to a staff member who would finalize the adoption.
The day was dreary but the rain held off, and we had a steady flow of visitors and several adoptions. One of the most heartwarming was that of little Marty McFly, a Jack Russell terrier mix who was found as a stray, afflicted with heartworms. He had been at the shelter for several weeks, being treated for his disease and endearing himself to everyone. Contrary to the feisty, stubborn reputations of most Jack Russells (so I’m told), Marty loves to cuddle. He is also housetrained and generally an amiable, get-along kind of guy. Just two days earlier, my husband and I had taken him to City Hall, where the Mayor and his staff once a month host one of our shelter dogs for the day. Reports on him were, “I know we say this every time with every dog, but Marty was the absolute best yet!”
Marty was adopted by a woman who heads up a shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence. By day, he will be an ambassador and comforter for these traumatized individuals, and I can’t think of more powerful medicine than an affectionate dog to cuddle up with when you’ve lost your home and everything you once trusted and loved and hoped for. And by night he’ll go home with Valerie and be a thoroughly pampered pet. Happy life, Marty — as we always say, with both smiles and sadness, as one of our favorites departs from our care to his or her new home.
As if things weren’t active enough, with families queuing up for their chances to “date” their chosen dogs and cats, and volunteers and staff rushing around getting animals out of their kennels and putting them back, mid-morning a group of kids and adults arrived. They were members of a church group called S.O.S. — “Serving Our Savior” — and had brought a pallet-load of donations: bags of dog and cat food, kitty litter, pillows, towels and blankets, and more. The only “payment” they wanted was a tour of the shelter and the chance to see and pat the animals. I was honored to give it to them. As I witnessed the smiles of the kids giving dogs treats through their kennel gates, and their gentleness in one-on-one interactions with a kitten or a pup, and their courtesy –“Please; thank you; yes, ma’am” — I thought “There’s hope, with kids like these coming up.” Their adult escorts were also admirable, kind and generous, putting hands and feet to their faith.
Eighteen animals went home with new families on this day. And many others who are still in the shelter will benefit from the donations of the church group and several others who came in throughout the day to contribute food and supplies.
I’m filled with wonder and warmth as I think of the enormous efforts that went into this event: by the staff and volunteers who planned it; the photographers who took pictures of the animals to post on Facebook and Instagram and draw people to the shelter; the volunteers who decorated the building, transforming it from utilitarian to festive and welcoming; the other volunteers who gave their precious free time on a Saturday to help bring people and pets together, some arriving at 8:30 in the morning to walk the dogs and settle them down so they’d show their best selves to the public.
And, of course, let’s not forget the staff members who took on the extra duties of the event on top of their regular huge workload. And the church group and the other caring souls who brought donations to help the animals.
Love was in the air, and love ruled the day.