Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Greetings and Reflections

To our wonderful AARF family,

As the end of 2008 nears, I am reflecting on what a wonderful, difficult, tumultuous and amazing year we have had. The year has been filled with the some of the highest and lowest points we have had since our beginning in 2002. But in this holiday season, I am filled with gratitude and peace as I look back on this past year.

First, I want to thank our AARF team. We have undeniably the hardest working program board in town. These people are my colleagues and friends, and I have the greatest respect for them. You can never know just how hard they work, how many hours they dedicate to saving the lives of pets in Atlanta, how many tears they cry and how often they rejoice at a job well done. And as many of you may not realize, they don't get paid. In this tough economy, many of them have had to increase the time at their "real" jobs to make ends meet, yet they still make so much time for AARF. They dedicate themselves because they care so deeply, and know that their efforts are making a difference in the lives of so many dogs and cats. I cannot thank them enough, or tell them often enough how very important their work is. If you feel so persuaded, send one of them a note of thanks for a job well done. Our 2008 team: Brooke Martin, India Powell, Carrieann Banacki-Gillert, Melanie Wiggins, Renee Malinowski, Stephanie Manley, Julie Lewis, Carroll Ball, Gayle Schleuter and Erica Cottrill. I also want to thank our AARF members who worked with us for several years, but 2008 led them on to other endeavors. I thank them for their time and service and for jobs well done: Gwen Sparling and Amy Anderson. Last, but certainly not least, I want to say thank you to our fosters. They are the foundation of our adoption and Silver Paws programs.

We have struggled through this difficult financial time. At times during 2008, I feared that the end of AARF was near. We had to make difficult decisions, just to keep the doors open, both metaphorically and literally. During the summer of 2008, we decided to freeze our animal intake in hopes of catching up financially. Our expenses for the first half of 2008 had been almost double our income, and we were watching other rescue groups collapse under the stress of the economy. I continued to look at every email from shelter managers that came to me, with the faces of those dogs and cats that I knew we could not help. But those faces kept me motivated and inspired for AARF to survive. I knew our work had only begun, and our goal for long-term change was still possible, even in the midst of difficult times.

As many of you know, we had planned by this time to have our own facility and a paid staff -- a place to call our own. But as with many others during this time, our plans have not come to fruition. They are not halted, only delayed, and we will continue to push on in 2009. We know that our foundation is strong, and that we have not compromised our mission or our principles in the face of adversity, and that consistency will ultimately lead us where we want to go. I am excited and anxious to see what new developments 2009 will bring.

I have to end my reflections with extreme gratitude for you, our supporters. Each one of you means so much to me, and I am thankful every day that you are on this journey with us. It is because of you that AARF has survived, and grown in many ways, in 2008. Every time a dog or cat needs your help for surgery or heartworm treatment, you are there. Every time AARF has an adoption day, an event or a fundraiser, you are there. Every time we ask, you give. You help us save pets from euthanasia, help us subsidize spay/neuter surgeries, help us teach children about compassion toward animals, and help us create love matches between mature pets and mature adults.

You, our extended family of supporters, are my heroes. I wish for you this holiday season wonderful surprises and blessings. And as we enter 2009 together, I hope for a joyous year for you, for us, for AARF, and for every pet in Atlanta.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are helping to create a world where every pet matters.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Christmas Morning...

On Christmas Morning...

I wish,

For every dog
searching trash cans for breakfast,
a filled bowl with his name printed in bright letters

For every dog
who slept last night chained in a frozen yard,
a soft, warm bed
with a person snoring gently nearby

For every shelter dog,
spending Christmas morning in a run,
a forever home,
filled with sounds and smells of family

For every "Christmas" puppy
given this year,
a tolerant, caring owner
who won't abandon you
as you grow into a real dog

For every ailing pet,
enough money for your owner
to pay the bills to make you well

For every lost dog,
a clear, safe and well marked path,
to lead them home

For every old and tired friend,
a warm fire, and a soft bed,
to ease your aches and pains


For every precious Dog who crossed the Rainbow Bridge,
a moment when you know that you are remembered today,
missed again, and loved forever

Author unknown

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Emotional Connection

Since the beginning of civilization, we humans have considered ourselves the caretakers of all animals. But we are not simply farmers who take care of our livestock for our own food production or herders who tend to our horses for our own utilitarian purposes. Our role as caretaker goes much deeper. As we dare to accept that animals are more than automatons of Descartes, that they are able to think, that they have emotions, we realize that we have another level of commitment and responsibility to them: to respect and care for them as living beings with internal lives, not just as creatures with physical bodies. It is absolutely imperative that we all share this luscious planet Earth with each of its inhabitants--two-legged, four-legged, finned, winged, scaled--in a respectful and thoughtful way. -- Allen Schoen, DVM, MS, Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live

This week, CNN published a story on research that shows that dogs have, and can demonstrate, emotions recently thought only to exist among humans and chimpanzees. Dogs in their study undeniably responded to situations with complex emotions. Their behaviors were not simply instinct, but clear demonstrations of affection, pride and jealousy, among others.

We receive untold numbers of emails and phone calls every week of people wanting to give up their pets for a whole host of reasons. Some of the most aggravating for me are the ones that start with "I just can't give him/her enough attention, and I want him/her to be happy." I honestly don't understand that statement in most scenarios. Unless something in life has drastically changed, this is not a true statement. What these people need to say, if they want to be honest, is "I am not giving my pet any attention, and I don't really want to. And as a result, he/she is probably lonely, hurt and depressed, and has started to act out behaviors to get my attention. I don't really care if my pet is happy. I just want someone else to take over this responsibility."

It's clear from these emails and phone calls we get that what Dr. Schoen says above is absolutely true. While providing fresh water, good quality food and a safe space is absolutely critical to the welfare of a pet, it's simply not enough. Pay attention to your dog or cat today. Give 5 minutes of extra attention (petting, brushing, a brisk walk around the neighborhood) and see what response you get. I am going to bet everything that you'll see those honest and real emotional responses from your pet. N0w, remember those responses when you fight with someone else in your home, when you ignore your pet because your favorite TV show is on, or when your day was so bad that you don't care if your pet's day is bad too. As happy as your pet is today with your extra, undivided attention is the just how sad, hurt and confused your pet will be when you create a negative environment.

We have a responsibility to create a world where every pet matters, and that includes a world beyond simple maintenance. Do something to make your pets happy today. I guarantee it's their turn.