The animal shelter where I volunteer, normally quiet and shuttered at 10 p.m., shone last night like a brilliantly lit-up ocean liner on a dark sea. As I pulled into the parking lot I marveled at the number of vehicles; my fellow volunteer observed, as we both got out of our cars,”It looks just like a weekday.”
Our group of some twenty shelter staffers, vets, vet techs and volunteers had gathered to meet the shelter’s transport van, which had just returned from St. Landry Parish in southwestern Louisiana — a 20-hour round trip. There, the two drivers — Mike, the shelter’s animal services dispatcher, and Becca, one of our animal services officers – had collected 17 dogs from a shelter and brought them here. This will free up space in the Louisiana facility to take in some of the multitude of homeless animals rescued from the floods in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
In the gated unloading area, the van stood with its doors open, its interior lights illuminating the crates stacked floor to ceiling. Each contained a medium-sized or large dog, and all the dogs were loudly giving voice to their fear, anxiety and eagerness to be out of the kennels in which they’d been confined for 10 hours.
The shelter’s staff had planned the intake process well, making the next few hours as smooth and stress-free as possible for the newcomers. Each of us volunteers stepped up to the van to get a dog: mine was a four-month-old male pup, tan and white. I first tried to take him to potty after the long trip, but he thrashed in a panic at the end of the leash. So I picked him up and carried him into the building, following the sign to “Station 1.” There, a kind vet tech held him and cooed to him while another drew blood from his arm for the necessary heartworm test. Thankfully it was negative. I consoled him with a piece of the precooked bacon I had bought that day as a special treat for the travelers — experience with shelter dogs has shown me that bacon pretty much improves any situation.
On we went to Station 2, where my puppy was weighed, given a flea treatment and a new name — “Crawdad.” His admission form was filled out and we proceeded to Triage, where I relinquished him to the vets who would give him a preliminary medical check and the vaccinations that all dogs receive on admission to the shelter. From there he was taken by other volunteers to his new kennel, for food, water and much-needed rest.
This procedure was repeated 17 times, and within a couple of hours all the dogs were settled in their accommodations for the next ten days or so. They will subsequently be given thorough medical evaluations and behavioral assessments, and then, hopefully, they’ll all be released for adoption.
Southeastern Tennessee is a long way from Houston, but the ripple effect from that city’s catastrophe has made big waves in our community. In preparation for the dogs we’ll be taking from Texas and Louisiana — and these 17 were just the first of several planned transports — our shelter put out a call for foster partners to house and care for our present canine residents, to make space for the new arrivals. So far, 200 people have volunteered. When I went in today for my usual Friday-morning dog-walking shift, there was a long line of people at the front desk patiently waiting to be escorted back to the wards to choose their foster pets. The hallways were crowded with donations of food, blankets, plastic bags, toys and other necessities.
Other shelters in our city are responding with equal energy and commitment. Concern for vulnerable animals has opened floodgates and released a torrent of human kindness.
This morning I looked in on little Crawdad. He was lying on a fleece blanket atop a raised dog bed. He had a plush hedgehog to curl up with, a bowl of fresh water and a licked-clean food bowl. Soft music played in the ward and all the other dogs — some 20 of them — were uncharacteristically quiet.
Crawdad cautiously came to the gate of his kennel and accepted a chunk of bacon from me. Mike, the dispatcher and van driver, told me last night that this puppy and several others on the transport had been rescued by the Louisiana shelter from a hoarding situation involving 47 young dogs. For Crawdad, this comfortable, climate controlled kennel must be like going from the pits to the Ritz. Here he will be cared for and have the chance to build trust with humans, and if all goes as we hope he’ll find a home — his first — with people who will love him forever.
Meanwhile, some other dog in Texas who has lost his home and his people will find a safe refuge in Crawdad’s former berth in the Louisiana shelter. And thus the ripple effect of kindness will spread on, and on, and on.