IN ISSUE #18
Welcome to 4animals, the last issue of our monthly newsletter for the year. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
|Sheley Revis offers important perspective on economically challenged rural shelter operation and shares the ways in which she’s devoted her time to helping.||BTC is taking a holiday break until January 15th’s Blog the Change. Come back then for more free and feel-good participation on behalf of animals!|
Sheley Revis and Rescue: From Grieving to Giving
an interview by Kim Clune
With fingers stroking the silky fur of McGrady, the beautiful dog pictured above, I listened with awe to Sheley Revis as we sat on the floor of the hotel lobby at October’s BarkWorld Expo in Atlanta. Sheley became McGrady’s hero when she adopted him from a kill shelter in North Carolina. And she became my hero when she shared many, many stories of her humble devotion to rescue. The more she spoke, the more I learned, the less I pet, the more I was nudged by McGrady… and so it went for an entire evening. I am so very inspired by Sheley’s dedication and I’m thrilled to share her story, as well as McGrady’s, with you. Most importantly, Sheley has realistic perspective on the need for a no kill evolution – moreso than a revolution.
Please keep watch for Sheley’s work as she grows the Fabulous McGrady and Friends Foundation, a registered non-profit in North Carolina with 501c3 paperwork and a website in process. Fabulous McGrady and Friends Foundation provides assistance for rural Carolinas animal shelters and approved rescues through fundraising, education and support for vetting, boarding, transportation and adoption. You can follow her work on Facebook too.
Please welcome Sheley to the BTC family…
SHELEY, HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH RESCUE?
Years ago, I was grieving as I watched the long slow decline of my heart dog & 1st Aussie, Navajo, due to Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Instead of sitting around grieving and feeling powerless, I decided to do something positive by helping other Navajos and signed up to do transport/overnight fostering for Australian Shepherd Rescue. That mushroomed into eventually serving in many capacities from National Volunteer Coordinator to coordinating long-distance transports to long-term fostering.
WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION?
I am a physician, General Internist.
GIVEN YOUR CAREER COMMITMENT, HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU DEDICATE TO RESCUE?
During the workweek, I’d say 5-10 evening hours and often ½-1 day of a weekend. This can be anything from networking online to delivering supplies to rescue transport legs.
WHICH ORGANIZATION DO YOU HELP MOST AND WHY?
As part of my rural animal shelter assistance efforts both before and after the founding of Fabulous McGrady and Friends Foundation, I have helped several different shelters in NC/SC. However, the shelter with which I am most involved is Ashe County Animal Control (ACAC) in NC.
The sole reason that I am involved there is a deaf Australian Shepherd – McGrady, the Fabulous Deaf Dog – who I adopted from there in March 2010. I learned that they had given him 35 days (versus the mandatory 7-day stray hold) despite suspecting him to be deaf! I had assumed they had a “ton” of resources/rescue contacts to do this. However, about a year later, I discovered that not to be the case.
McGrady was one of only 256 animals to make it out that year, with over 1500 not doing so because nobody came to rescue or adopt the animals. I realized that helping his and other rural shelters (and the animals within them) was McGrady’s “reason for being.” At that point, I decided to see if I could put the skills and network of reputable rescue contacts I’d gained in my years of rescue to work to save more animals and also show the community just how many “Fabulous McGradys” were sitting in their local shelter waiting to be adopted. I spent about 6 months driving the 5-hour round trip to various off-site shelter adoption events with McGrady and delivering supplies up to the shelter as I discussed my vision of using Social Media, pet listing sites and emails to network/publicize the adoptable animals at ACAC with reputable rescues/potential regional adopters. Slowly, I think they came to trust me, to know that I was totally serious about doing this and also understood that I would handle things in a professional manner.
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES ASHE COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROL FACE?
Rural shelters face many challenges.
- A major challenge is being hours away from large high-population-density areas which have large pools of potential adopters (there are not enough locally to handle the volume of animals), discounted/easily accessible spay-neuter resources, and potential donors/supporters. Communities where some (not all) do not place great value in the lives of companion animals and, because of that, the value of the services provided by Animal Control in helping the animals in their care.
- In these economic times, many rural counties have seen their operating budgets slashed. Therefore, departmental budgets, such as Animal Control, have been slashed forcing rural ACs to do more with less resources and oftentimes half the staff they once had. The Animal Control Officers at ACAC are down from 4 ACOs in 2010 to only 2 at present. One position was cut and another is in the process of being filled. They have no administrative staff. Thus, they do not have time to update their own ACAC website or answer multiple inquiries about adoptable animals and have had to cut their office hours dramatically for the time being (until a 3rd officer is again added, which is in the works).
- Chances of a national or Northeastern rescue group (where most SE animals head due to the larger pool of adopters) having a volunteer within convenient driving distance are slim.
- The lack of mandatory spay/neuter or leash laws as well as the lack of resources to enforce them even if they did exist.
- Despite the shelter’s openness and willingness to work with us to get as many adoptable animals out as possible, we STILL do not have enough reputable rescues or regional adopters out there for the number of animals coming in to the shelters. If you are a local 501c3 rescue who carefully screens adopters, has excellent Vet/other references, and who would be willing to help with our animals, please contact me via email.
WHAT DOES ACAC DO WELL IN LIGHT OF THESE CHALLENGES?
They serve as advocates for the animals in the County by readily pursuing cases of animal cruelty and abandonment, working in a VERY cooperative and supportive way to support our program, trying to educate the public about the importance of ID tags, safely containing pets, spay/neuter, etc.
WHICH CHALLENGES HAVE YOU HELPED ACAC FACE?
The Friends of Ashe County Animals (FACA) Facebook Group that I founded realizes this need to share adoptable animals with the community. Thus FACA takes care of posting found strays and adoptable dogs on Facebook as well as Twitter and major pet-listing sites. With the Lead ACO’s blessing, the listings on the various websites and Social Media forums directs potential rescuers and adopters to email a “volunteer” (me) and then I contact Cathy Allinder, a dedicated Ashe County resident and FMFF BOD member, who then finds out the needed information or notifies the ACOs that an owner will be calling about a lost dog or other issue. (We do not handle emergency, bite case or stray animal issues and inquiries like that are immediately directed to the appropriate channels).
To compensate for the lack of transport volunteers, we assist in animal evaluations, transporting them to the local Vet for full vetting/Health Certification (at the receiving rescues cost as we do not have the funding to fully vet animals for rescues), and initiation of either long-distance ground transport (which I coordinate) or Pilots N Paws flights so that the animals have a chance despite their location. The Animal Control Officers handle only giving the final nod to a rescue’s approval (FACA does all the “leg work” in checking/gathering credentials) and entering the animals into their database as rescued/adopted. They are so busy and have been so fantastic in allowing us to do this program that it is VERY important that we do not add to their already heavy workload.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT SO FAR?
Our fundraising efforts helped to raise the $1200 needed to purchase gated dividers. These transformed the existing large 10×13’ kennel run “rooms” (that housed multiple large dogs at once) into individual dog runs. And our supply drives/purchases obtained enough insulated Igloo/Indigo doghouses so that every large dog has their own kennel run, doghouse, food/water bowls, etc. This instantly eliminated fights between dogs over resources, thereby decreasing stress for the animals AND the ACOs who had to break up said fights.
When the panels arrived, the ACOs wasted no time reconfiguring the kennels into solo runs. I made a supply run to the shelter a few weeks after these had been put into place. I was IMMEDIATELY met by one of the ACOs and quickly escorted back to those runs as he excitedly gave me a “tour” of the new runs! This had been on their “wish list” for a long time. Our fundraising help and monies given by the County helped make this possible.
GIVEN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT FUNDRAISING RESTRICTIONS TO KILL SHELTERS?
I do not know ANY rural Animal Control Officer who doesn’t dream of the day where they do not have to euthanize another animal. It is easy for people to say “you should be ‘no-kill’….” However, there are MANY factors that enable shelters to become “no kill” and money/resources/community and government support are HUGE parts in that. People may say “ let the local no-kill Humane Society help.” Well, in many of these rural areas the Humane Society consists of 4-5 way-overstretched volunteers who are doing good to have $1000 in the bank account and who cannot handle another thing.
Survey the Situation, Serve the Actual Need
Also, it is very important that people running efforts to build no-kill shelters in rural areas have a FULL understanding of the TOTAL picture of the animal welfare situation in the area and realize that one reason for the huge numbers of animals in need is the fact that there are not enough adopters to handle the volume of animals there. Simply building a no-kill facility in an extremely rural area is not one of those “if you build it, they (adopters in droves) will come”. Without readily available Spay/Neuter, owner retention programs (ie, providing fencing, food, healthcare for animals of families affected by the economy), and networking of adoptable animals with reputable rescues outside the region, the no-kill shelter may quickly become a warehouse. Meanwhile, the kill shelter in that area will still be getting in animals that the no-kill shelter opted not to accept either because they were full or some other reason.
The officers of rural Animal Controls can tell you, better than anyone else, the problems that cause so many adoptable, unwanted animals to be in their shelter. It is not their fault that so many unwanted but highly adoptable animals are coming into their shelter and also not their fault that so many are euthanized. Why not allow them to be able to get grants that allow them more manpower to do things that would DIRECTLY help towards making the County Animal Control no-kill or dramatically decrease the volume of animals euthanized in these shelters?
- Having more funding/grants could enable hours to be extended to evenings and weekends (when most adopters/regional rescuers can visit shelters)
- initiation of Spay/Neuter efforts to be instituted (including S/N of all animals leaving the shelter for adoption locally)
- more manpower/resources to care for more animals for longer periods
- the ability to actually enforce S/N or leash laws if they exist
- and maybe even a new facility to be built in an area closer to the commercial district in town so that local people can more easily reach the shelter (many are located beside the County landfill)
If you engage them in conversation and treat them with respect, you’ll often find that rural shelter Animal Control Officers have some very progressive, fantastic ideas about how things could be made better for the animals in their County. However, they do not have the authority (most rural shelters are governed by the County Council or the Sheriff/Police Departments who have the ultimate say-so) or funding to initiate them – or their current workload, with their other job duties, is such that they cannot add another thing. All too often, I have seen people launch personal attacks on individual officers or be unwilling to help because “they kill animals.”
Don’t discount heroic acts of kindness…
Don’t forget that the care/feeding and adoption out of animals in rural kill shelters is not the only job they have. These officers can be called out at a moment’s notice on a cruelty investigation that can take all day, have to track down stray animals, rescue animals in peril.
As an example, the shelter that I help received an urgent call that an elderly small dog was drowning in the New River. The dog had been on a walk with his elderly owners and his leash slipped out of their hands. The dog got too close to the River, which was about 8-10’ deep at this point, and slipped in. The owners watched in horror as their dog, who thankfully had a leash that was caught in the brambles on the riverbank, yelped as he bobbed up and down in the River current. The ACO rushed to the scene and “emptied his pants pockets out as he ran to the river”. He dove into water over his head, in full uniform and his only pair of work boots and saved this dog. This is the first time this story will have been publicized but I’d dare say that daily there is a rural kill shelter ACO who is an unsung hero like this and will tell you simply that they were “just doing their job.”
Evolution is Possible…
Are things perfect and totally how I would love them to be in the rural kill shelters that I help? No, not by a long shot. My mantra is, “if this were easy, everyone would be doing it.” However, the way I see it is that Rome wasn’t built in a day and making real long-lasting improvement/change in rural animal shelters will come as a long, slow process – not a finger snap. This “us and them” mentality of not helping but rather criticizing kill shelters doesn’t get animal welfare anywhere, but rather sucks up valuable time and energy that could save so many more animals if channeled positively. Also, constant criticism makes kill shelters more apt than not to shut their doors to volunteers who could make real change.
Once a kill shelter does NOT mean always a kill shelter! However, the transition involves committed people engaging the ACOs and their governing authorities in RESPECTFUL dialogue and HONEST inquiries into how you can help (and then following through and being there for the long haul). It also means multiple groups, each with their own strengths, working TOGETHER for the greater good of the animals in an area and not duplicating efforts. No, you might not be able to save every adoptable animal in a rural kill shelter (I know that Cathy and I aren’t able to do that) but one animal saved is just that – ONE animal saved and one more adopting family/person who understands the value of animals in kill shelters.
Happy Holidays! See You in 2013!!
With the holiday season upon us and so much need to satisfy locally, we – the volunteers of Be the Change for Animals – are taking a much deserved online vacation to tend to our own local communities and families. We hope you’ll reach out and do the same in yours.
Our social media channels will remain open and active so be sure to visit us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus! Have a cause you’d like us to share? Post a link to these spaces. We’ll do our best to keep the information flowing where you live and breathe online.
We’ll see you back here for Blog the Change on January 15!! Watch for a terrific and free rescue “food-raiser” you can easily help with. More to details to come shortly…
See you then!
Happy holidays from your dedicated team at BTC,
Kim Clune, Amy Burkert, Kim Thomas, Vicki Cook, Peggy Frezon, Kristine Tonks, A. J. Postiglione, Maggie Marton and Mary Haight