Since 1989 I've been an animal shelter volunteer, the last 12 years in Maricopa County. I am delighted when lost pets are reunited with frantic owners. As homeless dogs and cats, especially older ones, leave with new owners I am so happy. Heartaches abound, of course. Too many healthy dogs and cats end up in the county landfill instead of responsible homes. I deal with the sorrows because of the kindness of strangers.
Over the years, heartwarming acts of generosity moved me to tears. Children asked friends and family to bring pet food and squeak toys to their birthday parties instead of gifts for themselves. I've been at the shelter when proud families dropped off the goods.
Delivery men and women brought lost pets on their lunch hour, risking their jobs because it was against company rules. A woman once pulled over in heavy traffic to pick up a cat rammed by a car. The shelter euthanized the gravely wounded cat but at least the animal didn't suffer on the side of the road.
Church groups hold pet food drives and donate to shelters. Talented people sew blankets, spending their own money on supplies so that unwanted dogs and cats have something cozy to lie on. Pet food stores donate ripped or torn bags rather than throw them away. Hotels bring us used linens they can no longer use. Dozens of volunteers spend hours each week walking dogs, grooming cats, and doing laundry. Sometimes their soft touch may be the only kindness these animals ever experience.
In 20 years I've seen the most heinous cases of animal cruelty that left me stunned. I've seen perfectly healthy dogs and cats, including some purebreds, loaded in plastic bags for a ride to the county landfill. I've seen thugs and punks swagger through the shelter tormenting pit bulls. But I've also seen the best in people. The kindness of strangers keeps me going so that I can still volunteer. Maybe one day we will see an end to pet overpopulation and make our pets part of our families.
Debra J. White of Tempe has been an animal welfare volunteer since 1997 and is on the board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition.