Tag Archives: pet surrender

Surrender

Photo credit: Dianne Roland

Today I was leaving the shelter after my dog care shift, when I was stopped in the parking lot by a woman, standing by the open back door of a minivan. “Hi, do you work here?” she asked.

“I’m a volunteer,” I said.

“Do you believe in God?”

This was not a question I was expecting. “Yes,” I replied cautiously.

“I need to surrender my cat,” she said. “Here he is, look.” She lifted the grate of a cat carrier on the back seat to reveal a large white cat. He lay still, not reacting, only looking up at me with vivid blue eyes.

“He’s beautiful,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “He’s a good cat. He never bites or scratches. He’s very affectionate. I just can’t give him what he needs. I went inside there — ” she motioned toward the Admissions entrance of the building — “and they told me I had to make an appointment for next week.”

I confirmed to her that this was our policy; in order to increase the likelihood that we’ll have space for incoming animals and not be forced to euthanize to alleviate overcrowding, we ask owners to set up appointments to relinquish their pets.

Then I asked, “Why do you need to surrender him?”

She said abruptly, “Come around to this side. I have to sit down.” I followed her to the passenger side of the van; she got into the front seat, reclined the back and put her feet up on the dashboard. I looked over at the driver, an older woman, who gave me a sly smile that seemed to invite me to share a certain skepticism about her companion.

I turned my attention back to the woman. She had a long face, and frizzy brown hair parted in the middle and braided into Raggedy Ann style pigtails incongruous for her age, which I guessed to be about forty. Her eyes darted from side to side, rarely meeting my gaze. “I have a lot of health problems,” she said. “If I stand too long the blood pools in my feet. Sometimes the cat will come sit on my lap – he’s very affectionate – but I have to push him off because his weight hurts me. Taking care of him, all that bending over and lifting, it’s too much for me.” She spoke in a rush, as if accustomed to people using any conversational pause to make an escape from her intense verbal barrage.

The driver spoke for the first time. “She also has two dogs.”

“If you can’t care for a cat, how do you take care of dogs?” I asked her. I’m not a cat expert, but I do know that, independent and self-reliant as they are, they generally require much less energy and attention than dogs.

“I just walk fast with the dogs and then the blood doesn’t pool in my feet,” she said. I didn’t press her for details.

She went on, “I’ve had this cat for eleven years.”

“She had another cat but she had to put him down recently,” the driver said.

I told the owner I was sorry. “He really misses his brother,” she said. “He wanders around the house looking for him. I thought that if I brought him here, the change of scene might be good for him, and he would have lots of companions.”

It was time for me to speak honestly. “You’ve had this cat for eleven years. He will very possibly be traumatized by being put into a shelter. We have about three hundred cats and kittens at present, and, while we take the best care of all of them that we can, he won’t get a lot of personal attention. He’ll most likely be kept alone in a small compartment. He may or may not get adopted. This cat is used to the quiet and comfort of a home. It will be very hard on him. And you say that he misses his brother – how will he feel if he loses you, too?”

Remembering her initial question about God, I said, “I think you should ask God to help release you from your guilt at feeling you’re not being a good enough caretaker. I think you should keep your cat and just do your best.”

The driver chimed in again. “She’s already been through all that,” she said, not clarifying what “all that” meant.

“If I do surrender him, would you keep an eye on him?” the younger woman asked me.

“I’m sorry, I’m not involved with the cats at all,” I said. “I only work with the dogs.”

“Will they put him to sleep?”

“We can’t guarantee that we won’t have to euthanize him, if he fails our behavioral assessment test or health check. Or if he doesn’t stay healthy in the shelter, which is possible. As I said, it would be a very stressful adjustment for him.”

A car pulled into the spot next to us, and a man and little girl got out. “Oh, Daddy, look at the kitty,” the child cried.

“Can we see your cat?” the man asked.

The woman vaulted out of her seat and turned the force of her attention to the newcomers, beginning to regale them with her saga. I chose this moment to bid her good bye and good luck. I heard the man saying, “Well, we’re really not sure we want to take a cat home today, we just came to look.”

I was glad that I spoke to the woman honestly about the realities of an animal shelter – though I’m not sure she had the mental focus to absorb what I said. I regret that it didn’t occur to me until later to suggest that she get another cat, to keep her present one company and relieve herself of the burden of being his sole source of affection. As for the difficulty of “all that bending over and lifting,” it did seem that, if she could walk two dogs at a fast pace, she should be capable of scooping and changing litter and putting down food and water.

I’m always saddened to see senior pets come into the shelter. They often seem depressed and confused by the noise and restriction of their surroundings, after having lived for years in a home. They miss their people, too. Sometimes it’s inevitable; their owner has died, or has had to go into a hospital or nursing home, or has grave life problems that prevent them from being able to care for another living being.

All too often, though, people simply tire of their pet, or don’t want to deal with the difficulties that can accompany advancing age. And so a faithful friend gets cast off.

But if animal shelter work is teaching me anything, it’s to try not to be judgmental. And so I hope that a source of wisdom and kindness greater than my own will guide the woman to make the best decision for herself and her longtime animal companion.

Orphan of the Storm

petey

I was volunteering in the shelter’s admissions department on a late-autumn evening, and had just returned from walking one of the dogs from our holding area, when I came upon a scene in the reception room.

A young man, wearing a wool watch cap pulled down to his brow and the dirty overalls and jacket of a construction worker, was holding a small brown terrier mix, a stuffed black plastic bag, and a dog toy — a silly-looking blue fur lion nearly as big as the dog in his arms. He was explaining to the admissions staffers, Darla and Leslie, that he and his wife had to move and the place they were going to didn’t allow pets. “I heard that y’all take dogs that don’t have no other place to go.”

“We do,” Leslie said, “but…”

Just then Kerry McBride, the shelter director, rushed in. Leslie paused.

Kerry said to the young man, “Sir, I heard that you wanted to surrender this dog. But, see, there’s a problem. This shelter takes dogs from the city only. You’re not even a resident of this county, right?”

“No, ma’am, we’ve been living in…” he named a rural county northwest of ours.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I just can’t help you. We’re full up and you’re from outside our jurisdiction.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” the young man said. “We have to leave first thing in the mornin’. I done everything I could to find homes for our other three dogs but nobody wanted Petey here.”

Kerry reached out and grasped the little dog’s paw with its long, shiny black nails. “This is a small dog and small dogs are very adoptable,” she said. “Have you tried other shelters in the area?”

“No, ma’am. Where are they at? Would they be open this late?” It was now six o’clock.

“No, they close at five,” Leslie said. “I have some information sheets here that give their hours and directions.”

“I just don’t know.” This was all too much for the young man, it was clear.

“You’re not going to just drop the dog off somewhere, are you?” Kerry asked, looking at him directly.

“Oh, no, ma’am, I’d never do nothing like that.” He seemed horrified by the suggestion.

“Well, try those other shelters. Good luck.” She went through the door into the adjoining Animal Control officers’ dispatch room. Then, as the man went over to the desk to take the information sheets from Leslie, Kerry opened the door a crack and beckoned me in.

She stood with Dave, one of the Animal Control officers, and Diane, the dispatcher. “Mimi,” she said, “here’s what I want you to do if you’re willing. Get your coat and act like you’re leaving for the day. Follow that guy out to the parking lot and tell him that you’ll take the dog from him, make up some story. Then you can fill out a form saying you found the dog as a stray somewhere nearby. I just can’t let it get out that anybody can bring dogs to us from anywhere, but I don’t want him to be so desperate that he just leaves the dog somewhere.”

“I get it,” I said.

“Are you worried that he might be dangerous?” Dave asked. “Should I follow?”

“No, he seems like a nice guy,” I said. “Just really up against it.”

“He’s leaving,” Kerry said.

“I’m gone.” I followed him outside and caught up with him in the parking lot. “Sir,” I said, “wait.” He turned.

“I need to do this sort of under the radar,” I said, “but I have a friend who’s looking for a small dog. And this one seems really sweet. I’ll take him from you.”

His face relaxed. “Oh, thank you, ma’am, God bless you,” he said. “I just didn’t know what I was going to do. He is a good dog. The only thing about him is he sometimes gets a little nervous, like when you come back home and he’s glad to see you, he might pee a little.”

“That doesn’t worry me,” I said.

“Well, I sure do thank you.”

I took the dog from him. Little Petey was trembling. I held him close, took the plastic bag – “those are all his toys,” the man said — and the blue furry lion. “Goodbye, Petey,” the man said, and patted his head. “Goodbye, ma’am. Thanks again.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll take good care of him.”

He was walking away but raised a hand and nodded, as if not wanting me to see the emotion on his face.

I watched him drive off in his battered white truck. I wondered what his whole story was.

Back inside I filled out the stray form in my name and then took Petey out for a walk. He pranced along, wearing a tiny black harness imprinted with silver bones; he was the daintiest little dog I had ever walked. We went into the puppy yard and I saw that Kerry’s office light was on and she was at her desk. I knocked on the glass door that led from the yard into her office and she came and opened it.

I gestured to Petey. “Mission accomplished.”

“I’m glad. Thank you. I was worried that he would just abandon the dog.”

“He didn’t seem like that kind of a guy. But it’s great of you to do this.”

“We do what we can.” She smiled at me. “I called Phil over at the SPCA. They’ll come pick him up tomorrow. He’ll get adopted quickly, I’m sure.”

After getting Petey settled in a kennel in the holding area, with a bowl of water and a fleece blanket to warm him against the chilly stainless steel floor, I took his bag of toys to the laundry room so that the re-usable ones could be washed and shared with the other shelter dogs. Opening it I saw a large number of nearly-new stuffed animals and squeaky toys. This had obviously been a loved dog, well cared for. It was sad to think of his owners having to part with him.

Sometimes I’ve heard animal care workers grouse about owners who move to pet-unfriendly places and surrender their animals:”How can they do that to a family member? I would never move anywhere that wouldn’t take my pets.” But some people truly have no choice. Here at the shelter I was seeing how unexpectedly the tides of human fortunes can shift, leaving helpless animals to wash up wherever they can find solid ground. Petey, it seemed, was going to be one of the luckier ones.