Volunteering at a high kill inner city shelter takes its toll. There's the smell, which even after a shower you can't seem to get out of your nose; the noise, which you hear long after you leave, and the endless pain of watching the dogs-dogs you have fallen in love with at first sight-getting sick with kennel cough within three days and then euthanized for something that could be treated with a quick round of antibiotics. It will keep you up at night, knowing that your shelter can't afford sedatives, so the dog is being muzzled, given a shot to stop their heart, and then walked across the room to the freezer as far as they can go before they die because the vet tech-who wears a back brace-can't carry all those bodies, one after the other, any further than he has to.
What also haunts so many of us is the knowledge that the dogs aren't the only ones suffering. There are the owners who have left them behind.
When I first began volunteering, I would feel frustration with people who relinquished their dogs. I needed to put my anger somewhere, anger that grew as I comforted these crying, shaking dogs in my lap, and it was easy to imagine that these owners had not exhausted all their options. My fellow volunteers and I spent hours trying and often failing to emergently find their former dogs new homes, writing biographies for them based on their intake information ("Buddy has lived with cats and dogs and kids! He's housetrained!") only to walk them to the euthanasia room the next morning. When I would meet people relinquishing their dogs outside the shelter and say, "Have you explored all your options? You know this is a high kill shelter, right?" They would often shrug. It would take years until I understood my unintended arrogance and the kindness of their leaving it at a shrug.