Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Lives We Can't Save

Last week, we got a call from our adoption coordinator (who also works at a local county shelter) about the sweetest puppy that was there.

She was only 14 weeks and was a staff favorite. But she had been passed over for adoption and rescue because she had demodex, one of the forms of mange. Demodex is usually highly treatable and not contagious. Knowing how much this little girl was loved by the staff, we wanted to try to help. We put out a plea to our foster and volunteer list, hoping that someone would want to give this girl a chance.

We got several responses from people who were willing to bring this little one home, and try to help her have a second chance start on life. We even had an offer from a vet to treat her mange for free.

The morning we had planned to move her from the shelter to the vet's office, she began to act sick. The shelter clinic staff suspected parvo, and when they tested her, the test came back positive. With her already compromised immune system, the shelter decided to euthanize her. We found out after the decision, and the euthanization, had already happened, so there was nothing we could do, but mourn the loss of this little life that we never even got to meet but were already committed to. I cried when I found out, not only for her, but for all of the ones we can't save. Rescue work is difficult, often emotionally draining and painful.

I get at least 10 emails a day into my personal AARF email, and AARF gets 2-3 times that number, about pets that need help. Some of the local shelters send out almost daily lists of dogs and cats of all ages, sizes and breeds that will be euthanized if no one comes for them. Individuals who have picked up a dog or cat running down the street or huddled up in their yard and need help email and call us, hoping we have an open space to take the pet. And unfortunately, about 1/3 of our calls and emails come from people who simply don't want the responsibility of caring for their own pet anymore.

I look at every email, and every picture. My heart aches for each life that we can't save. They are all deserving, and all need safe shelter where they will never face homelessness, abandonment or euthanasia again.

But we can't save them all. And I know that. We could build the biggest shelter ever, with space for hundreds of dogs and cats, and clean out every shelter in Atlanta. And in less than a week, every shelter would be full again. There simply are not enough homes or shelter spaces or foster homes for all of those pets who need us.

But we can make a difference for one pet at a time. In the same week that we said goodbye to this little life, we also saved another one that needed us. Zoe is a 5 year old shepherd mix who had been hit by a car and left for dead. She was picked up by the same shelter that had the sweet puppy, and the vet there amputated her leg and got her back on her way to health. Zoe is now in a foster home, recovering from her surgery and learning to trust people again. Soon, she'll start heartworm treatment to continue her journey toward a happy and healthy life.

I take comfort in knowing we saved Zoe. And I'll continue to hold this sweet puppy in my mind and heart, not as sadness, but as motivation. There are so many Zoes and so many unnamed puppies, and cats and kittens, and rabbits, and birds, and creatures of all shapes and sizes who need us.

We have created a world where they need to be saved. And it is our responsibility to save them. And we have a duty to create a world where every one of these lives matter, even the lives we can't save.


amy said...

thank you susan....thank you for your help and attention for these souls that need your voice to spread their plight.

Joyce said...

I feel so privileged to be a part of such a wonderful organization with such a compassionate leader and members. My heart aches too for all those we can't save, but rejoice in those we do.