Each day, all across America, the clock is ticking against thousands of shelter animals.
A few will be reclaimed by their owners. Several lucky ones may be adopted outright.
Upward of a third will be euthanized.
While the no-kill movement has gained traction over the past decade – several major cities and dozens of communities can boast that they are “no-kill” – the majority of shelters begin a countdown to lethal injection once an abandoned, mistreated or surrendered animal passes through their doors.
Human inmates on death row, many convicted of unspeakable crimes, may wait years for their sentences to be carried out. In some states, the appeals process may drag on so long that some convicts end up expiring naturally before they are executed.
But these animals – who’ve convicted no crime other than perhaps being lost and having no identification or having been used as “bait” dogs for fight mongers – may have anywhere from a few days to a few weeks of dank sanctuary before they are killed. Who files an "appeal" for them?
Having little sense of time or what that needle and the pink fluid in that tube is for may be the only blessing most of these one-time companions have.
But outside the ashen shelter walls, a groundswell of voices is trying to save as many animals from doom as is humanly possible. And each day, new voices join the chorus.
They are small, large or specialty rescues operating as non-profit 501c3s. One such group, Downtown Dog Rescue in Los Angeles, offers temporary fostering services and even food or medical resources for low-income pet-owners, many of whom once believed that they would have to surrender their only true companion in hopes that he or she could find a “better life.”
They could be organizations such as Operation Blankets of Love, which has saved thousands of shelter animals through a simple formula: give blankets and other comfort items to buffer shelter animals from the cold, cement floors and steel bars of their cages and you will have a happy, adoptable pet.
Or, they are individual rescuers with a tenacity rivaled only by a dog clamping down on a cherished bone.
Last week, the tireless Lexxi Paul “pulled” Sandie, an impossibly cute one-year-old Pit with a smile as wide as the known universe, from a high-kill shelter in Los Angeles County. Her “due out date” had long since passed. Many believe that the only thing keeping Sandie alive was the parade of social media pages plastered with pics and videos of her going belly-up and pawing gently at the bars of her cage each time a person walked by. Thanks to Lexxi, Sandie (now “Piglet”), has been adopted into a forever home.
For some individuals, the rescue pursuit occupies an overwhelming majority of their spare time. For others, it becomes life itself. Rescue work has been described as discouraging, frustrating, maddening, and ultimately the most rewarding thing they have ever done or could hope to do.
Individual rescuers are indeed a special breed. It is one thing to adopt a pet. It is another to house and nurture perhaps more than one at a time in one’s home – which is often occupied by one’s own pets. One must be versed in the art of interspecies negotiation and territorial parry and thrust. One must be builder of trust, provider of structure and healer of wounds.
And, perhaps the most difficult, one must be a Zen master of letting go.
Because the day will come when everything that the rescuer invested must be paid forward to the right forever home. Bittersweet tears may flow both as testament to a bendable but unbreakable bond and in celebration of a promising future for the rescued pet.
Then, after a few beers or a glass of wine or the supportive ear of a dear friend, it comes time to do it all over again.