Worth the Effort
In the front yard of my childhood home stood a beautiful, enormous magnolia tree that may have began my lifelong love of trees. But as much as I loved it, I also resented it for what seemed like an endless supply of leaves and seed pods that it would shed, all of which had to be raked and picked up, all too often in my opinion, since I was the one assigned to the chore.
The effort seemed pointless to me. I would rake for what seemed like hours (time moves much slower when you're a kid) only to turn around and see more on the ground. If I was feeling extra motivated and worked especially fast, the ground beneath the towering tree would be clean for a few proud moments. And then a leaf would fall. And another, and another. Like I said, pointless.
Running an animal shelter, especially one in the southeast of the United States, can seem a similar futile effort at times. Sure, there are adoptions and return-to-owners every day, but then there are newcomers that immediately fill the open spaces; strays and owner surrenders, all needing medicine, food, veterinary care, and love.
And then there are the abuse and neglect cases on which we are called to help. Abandoned or forgotten pets, chained, tied, starving and sick, hopeless and desperate for rescue. Many of them cower in fear of their rescuers because they've never known human compassion. Some of them, sadly, are past the point of rehabilitation, at least to the extent of the resources available in most animal shelters, and even after the effort and emotional investment of rescue and basic care, the kindest thing to be done is to offer them peace through humane euthanasia.
All of this can become overwhelming to the people working in these shelters and has the potential to lead to compassion fatigue: "a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper" according to Dr. Charles Figley at compassionfatigue.org.
The happy outcomes are an animal rescuer's saving grace. And fortunately, as heavy and numerous as the sad cases can be, the happy stories outweigh the bad. At the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare, we call these stories Happy Tails.
These adoption follow-up stories come from adopters usually via email or social media. Sometimes they come back to visit us in person - talk about a workday pick-me-up!
Debbie Rowland, a recent contributor with her own Happy Tail of Truffles, who she adopted in 2015, said "Many people are inspired by Happy Tails. Any of us involved in any form of rescue need to see happy endings. It makes the sadness of seeing neglect, abuse and abandonment just a little bit more bearable."
We agree wholeheartedly, and so we've been publishing more and more of these stories and encouraging adopters to share their stories with us.
A recent Happy Tail submission came from Alexis Schonberger, adopter of Pogo, known in the shelter as Sprout. Alexis poured her heart into her adoption story which details the past two years of her life with Pogo and how his rescue has enormously changed his life for the better and how he has truly rescued her in return. "As I signed his adoption papers, I almost felt like crying. It had been many, many years since I had fallen in love with a dog from a shelter. (Pogo) just stole my heart from the first time he licked my face."
Another submission came via our Instagram page from Allyson Rikard who, along with her husband Robert, adopted Dante in December. Dante was one of nine dogs the SPCA Albrecht Center helped rescue from a Saluda County neglect case over the summer. The dogs were chained with no food or water nearby and living in deplorable conditions. One dog had already perished on his chain after what must have been a miserable life and the others were in heartbreaking shape. Dante was one of the lucky ones, and his life now is totally different from the life he endured there.
I know there are many more stories out there. Perhaps you have one of your own? Please share it. Share it with your family and friends, with the animal shelter or rescue where you adopted your pet, and with the world. We need to hear these stories to make the sad stories, even when they seem as defeating as raking leaves from underneath a steadily shedding tree, worth every single bit of the effort.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.