Before I started working at Whiskers Animal Benevolent League three years ago, I was oblivious to the amount of time, energy, and dedication that went into caring for the animals in shelters. I saw websites and social media pages posting transformational pictures, and I saw volunteers working at adoption clinics, but I never considered what it takes to see rescued animals through transformation, to get them to where they are adoptable.
The past three years have opened my eyes to a world that I barely knew existed. Here are four big concepts the past three years have taught me.
I’d never have guessed how extensive the volunteer network is. Here are the main categories of people who volunteer in shelters.
A volunteer system that relies on the individual schedules and memories of so many individuals will never be flawless, but it all fell into place. While working there I met some of the most dedicated and big-hearted people I have ever known.
When I started working at the shelter I was a bit apprehensive to handle cats who had the feline immunodeficiency virus. Like most people, I didn’t understand the virus or how it was spread, and I worried about bringing it home to my own cats.
Over my first few weeks there I learned so much about FIV. Most notably I learned that FIV is actually pretty hard to transmit, and it’s passed from cat to cat primarily through deep bites and scratches. Not only were these shelter cats not a threat to my cats at home, but the FIV+ cats could even live healthily with uninfected cats as long as none was aggressive.
Until I saw how many cats with FIV and the feline leukemia virus my shelter was rescuing from being euthanized, I had no idea how many cats were denied the chance to live.
Unlike FIV, FeLV is highly contagious, and cats with this virus require their own private space in shelters, away from uninfected cats. Most shelters can’t afford to alter their spaces to accommodate this need. Because of this, many FeLV+ cats get euthanized automatically because there is simply nowhere to put them. Given a chance and proper medical care, cats infected with FIV and FeLV can live happy and relatively healthy lives.
I moved out of state last month. Of all the places and loved ones I left behind, the cats were the hardest to leave. They could get adopted, they could get sick, and the remaining ones might not remember me in a year. It was a very real possibility that I might never see many of them again. Holy heartbreak.
I knew I’d work in a no-kill shelter in my new city. It has been such a huge part of my life for so long, and it’s where my passion is. The most recent shelter where I volunteered set the bar high, and I’m still trying to find the right one. It’s important to me to work with cats who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance, like my FeLV+ friends from back home. I learned a lot while working at the shelter, and now I know how much work goes into rescuing cats. I also know how much I want to be part of a team that works hard every single day to make the lives of cats better.
About the author: Andee Bingham is a freelance cat writer from Asheville, North Carolina. She lives with her two sweet and sassy cats, Nora and Ida, and occasionally fosters others. When not snuggling with or writing about cats, Andee loves to read, write fiction, and explore the mountains. Learn more about Andee at her website and Dear Nora.