Animal shelter worker ! Could you do it ?
A day in the life of an animal shelter worker
I have read a lot on the Internet about what it’s like to work at a shelter from people who have never worked at one and I thought people might be interested to know what it’s like for someone who really works there.
My day starts at 9 AM most days. The way my schedule works I am there to cover when other people aren’t there. Some days that means 9 to 7/8/9. Other days it means 9 to 12:30. Some days I start in the afternoon. Most people get three days off to recover from the stress and sorrow, but because we lost our two full time people I don’t.
First thing I do when I come in is make fresh bleach solution (it has to be made fresh every four hours) for the rooms I cover: Foster care, Heartworm, Dog Iso(lation), cat iso and extreme iso. Then we start cleaning and feeding. If we have another foster care worker, I may clean or I may walk. If we have to borrow an employee from the shelter side, a volunteer or a community service worker, I clean, they walk.
When we clean, we remove everything from the room: paper, shreds(if it’s a puppy), litter box (if it’s a cat), towels, beds, fleeces, toys, food and water bowls. If the room is dirty or we will be placing another animal in it, we give it a thorough scrubbing, then bleach it. If it is clean and the same animal is returning, we only bleach it.
Because the animals in our care are ill, they walk in our park area. Healthy animals have a longer “track” to walk around and can run in our retention pond, when it hasn’t actually rained so much that it is a pond, but our babies need peace and quiet and, in some cases, not to spread their germs to everyone.
Animal shelter worker ! Could you do it ?
Every day we start with Benjamin, one of two permanent residents at the shelter. The other is Sherman, an iguana, who became our mascot, when it was decided it was unlikely a potential adopter would be able to afford the specialized environment he requires.
Benjamin is staying with us because he has MPS, a horrible disease that has misshapened his face, paralyzed his back legs and predestined him to a life expectancy of about 2 years. He is 11 months now. There has been talk of sending him to a rescue in California, but he has not been cleared to fly. Personally, I pray he is not cleared. Even though I know it would be easier to have him leave now and have his death be a footnote to his story. There is nowhere in the world where Benjamin will have so many people love him, play with him and spoil him as he does here.
So the first thing we do is walk, clean and feed in Foster Care. Today was a really slow day and Foster Care only had 4 animals, but some days it has closer to 20. One of them was a kitten named Leia. One of my coworkers is adopting her. We know we can’t personally save them all, but it doesn’t stop us from trying.
Then we move to Heartworm, where it is very important to walk the dogs slowly. If they are too active, they can get an embolism and die. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a very real possibility. Today Spring was in Heartworm. She is a sweet and adorable little terrier mix who I will be fostering in June, when her real foster takes her vacation. Heartworm dogs have to be fostered for a minimum of four months, so it is serious commitment. However, at our shelter, your expenses are covered. Not just medical care, but crates, towels, food, any thing you need. We love our fosters.
Animal shelter worker ! Could you do it ? Continued
Next we move to dog iso. Up until recently we had 10 puppies in iso and 2 in Foster Care, which meant we only had 1 less puppy in sick bay than we had in our puppy palace, but luckily we are down to only four now and none of them are from the original twelve. Puppies are harder to deal with because they cannot be walked until they have all their shots, so they have to be crated or held while their room is cleaned. Holding puppies may sound like a fun job, but after you get head conked by a rowdy puppy a few times, it’s a little less fun.
Today in dog iso, we have a bite quarantined cat. The reasoning behind that, of course, is the cat is not sick and nothing the dogs in iso would have would be contagious to cats. I mention this because many people on Twitter say shelters just slaughter animals at every opportunity, but this is not true. This cat is a sweet cat who was either mishandled or having a bad day and will most likely serve out her quarantine, take a short break with a foster and then go back up for adoption.
She just looks so sweet. I feel like she's family. https://t.co/fGlg71fVES
— Maria Tupper (@RokisRace) May 15, 2019
Next we do extreme iso or for me, the seventh circle of hell. This is where we keep the mange and ringworm kitties and puppies. Every time I enter room, I can feel the ringworms crawling on me. Luckily that is just a form of insanity. We glove up, wash up and we don’t catch ringworm or pass on mange.
Today hell was a little hotter, because we had kittens with Calici virus. It is an upper respiratory virus too contagious to be around other cats. But I would like to point out we are not putting them down. We are treating them. In my case, wearing double gloves and an apron, but treating them all the same. As with everything in extreme iso, everything they touch will be bleached three times before being returned to use.
Then we do the same for cat iso, where we also have to clean the cats’ nebulizers as well as their cages and belongings.
Animal shelter worker ! Could you do it ?
Once everyone is clean and fed, we medicate. Basically we read their charts, see what they need, check their eyes, nose and mouth, energy level and appetite and record everything including what medications they were given, how much and any other treatments they might need like fluids or nebulizing.
Then we sweep, mop and restock. Then if it’s a long day, I might go to lunch. I, personally, and it has nothing to do with my job, try to eat in 10 to 15 minutes, so I can take out super energetic dogs and older puppies for whom two walks a day are not cutting it so potential adopters can see their real personalities not just the pent up energy.
People don’t understand that a four month old puppy may have spent his whole life waiting for his last set of shots so his feet can hit the ground without fear of catching anything, so yes he is over excited when he meets you, but it is nothing a little exercise and attention won’t cure. So I try to give them that love and puppy play time, so they have a fair shot at finding their forever home.
After lunch, there are lots of things to be done. Blood draws (which I don’t do yet), shots, work ups on animals going up for adoption and the occasional bath, which I am pretty good at except for the part where you should not end up wetter than the dog you are bathing. But at least I can honestly say I feel their pain.
Somedays it’s hard to get everything done, but busy days are better than slow days when we get to do cool things like wash down the walls in cat iso. And every day at four o’clock, we start all over with the cleaning, feeding, walking routine.
Animal shelter worker ! Could you do it ? Know the truth !
It is no joke that this is hard work physically and emotionally. People always say that people work in shelters because they like to kill animals, but the truth is people that work in an animal shelter is because however flawed the system, it is the only way to save animals. In the past couple of weeks, I have had to stand by helplessly as two sobbing fosters brought in their baby’s lifeless bodies knowing there is absolutely nothing anyone can say to make it better.
It would actually be great if people who liked to see animals die would do this much work for fast food wages, because it wouldn’t phase them, the pain we go through. They wouldn’t be praying every day that Benjamin’s first diagnosis was right and he’s not MPS, but seeing that he’s virtually lost all use of his back legs and knowing he’s got maybe thirteen months left. They wouldn’t be worrying that no one will adopt Brawler and he will go “cage crazy.”
But I tell you what else they wouldn’t do, they wouldn’t expose themselves to ringworm and salmonella which are contagious to humans. They wouldn’t clean blood, snot or explosive diarrhea off the floors, walls and occasionally ceilings or sit around wondering if they are getting paid late or not all, because you really have to love animals to do that.
So the next time you start to criticize the people who do this job, ask yourself if you would do it. Or better still get off your keyboard and do something real to help these animals, volunteer or foster a pet and see if the world doesn’t seem like a better place when you work to make it one.