What does it mean to volunteer with shelter dogs?

As volunteers, we believe that all dogs deserve happiness, safety, and a chance at a good life, regardless of their past circumstances. It means that we let ourselves love these dogs. We try to find them safe, happy homes and save their lives. When we succeed, we are elated.

Joel was terrified of everything, even after outings and weeks of fostering. Through the patience and love of his foster family, including the family cats, Joel developed the confidence that he needed to find the perfect forever family. Read Joel’s story.

When we fail, it breaks our hearts. The dogs we couldn’t save are never far from our minds. The halls and yards of the shelter are haunted by them.

Malone ran out of time. He was great with kids. He was good with calm and smaller dogs. He loved to play and had so much energy. But no one would take him home, and his behavior became worse and worse until the shelter had only one choice. Read Malone’s story.

Some of us choose to volunteer with private rescues that don’t euthanize any dogs. These rescues allow us to do so much good, working with dogs on any behavioral problems until they are the best dogs that they can be.

We get to find the ideal homes for them and watch the joyful moment when their new families fall in love with them. After sometimes spending months working with a dog, watching her go to her new home is truly a deeply satisfying experience.

Nala (brindle) was at Alachua County Animal Services for over four months and we all loved her. She never developed behavior problems as so many dogs do. Finally, the Humane Society brought her to a Petsmart adoption event. Volunteers and staff with Animal Services and the Humane Society were elated when she found the perfect home and new friend. Read Nala’s story.

Working with dogs at a municipal animal services provides less dependable outcomes. The dogs that private rescues don’t take are working against the clock. Every second at Animal Services makes it less likely that a dog will make it out alive. Despite the best efforts of staff and volunteers, the loud, crowded conditions and lack of sufficient exercise, socialization, and mental stimulation is traumatizing. Dogs develop behavior problems, even if they didn’t have problems initially.

Faced with a dog displaying increasing behavior problems, who hasn’t been adopted, fostered, or taken by a private rescue, Animal Services has no choice but to euthanize.

Earl had serious guarding behavior with people and was unpredictable with dogs. He was a sweet, loving dog with his person, and as many of us got to play that role with him we fell in love. No private rescue or foster home came forward to help him with his behavior concerns, so he was euthanized. There has been a lot of outcry over euthanizing Earl, but the fact is, this is what happens to dogs with behavioral problems that don’t have a rescue or foster. If you want to help dogs like Earl before they are euthanized, foster. Read Earl’s story

This is the reality of working and volunteering with Animal Services. We try to convince private rescues to take dogs, we work on behavioral issues and keep dogs as well socialized and exercised as we can so that behavior issues are staved off for as long as possible. We hold adoption events and take dogs out into the community so that people will be more likely to notice and adopt them.

Taking dogs like Allie for outings greatly increases their chances of being fostered or adopted because it allows people to see the great dog out of the kennel environment.

When our efforts fail, a final plea goes out to the rescues. By this time, dogs are displaying significant enough behavior issues that behavior modification is needed for the safety of the community, so only rescues can take these dogs, with a foster dedicated to working on and managing behavior problems.

We spread the word on social media. We beg private rescues. Usually, final rescue pleas don’t result in salvation for the dog. It’s too late. No one wanted them in the months they’ve been waiting, no one wants them now that they have additional behavior issues.

Sometimes, someone steps up, and we all breathe a deep sigh of relief. Usually, we spend euthanasia day wondering why we do what we do.

Earl’s death hit us hard. Looking back at pictures makes me ask myself what else we could have done. If only there had been someone to put the time in with him.

Still want to volunteer? Most of us find the low points fewer and not so low as the high points are high. Most of the dogs that we fight for find homes where they will be loved for the rest of their lives. We’re lucky, here, in Alachua County, because Alachua County Animal Services has a very low euthanasia rate, low enough to be designated a no kill shelter.

Wade displayed growling and fearful behavior when he came in, so Animal Services put out a plea for someone to help him. After I worked with Wade for a few hours, his behavior turned around. Animal Services took him off of rescue plea and he was adopted from Animal Services soon after. Read Wade’s story.

By the time a dog is euthanized at Alachua County Animal Services, he’s had chances. Dogs that are healthy and free of serious behavior problems are not euthanized. Some dogs live at the shelter for six months or more before being adopted or taken into rescue programs. Some dogs, like some people, are bouyant, able to withstand trauma with a good attitude. These dogs can survive at the shelter for longer.

Alachua County Animal Services does their best with what they have, as do the private rescues operating in this county. There are mistakes, oversights, and rude moments. This is a challenging business, and there isn’t much money or many resources to go around. Emotions run high where lives are at stake.

Dogs are our best friends. We feel responsible. We are responsible. Each dog euthanized is a failure for all of us.

I’m sorry Malone. I did my best. So did Alachua County Animal Services.

We’re doing our best in very difficult circumstances. If you want a change, be that change.

If you care about the dogs, please help us. We are desperately in need of volunteers, foster homes, supplies, and money. Just sharing our posts goes so far to save these dogs.

Alachua County isn’t alone in needing your help. Wherever you live, support your local animal services and rescues. Save your community’s dogs. They are all of our responsibility.

If you are interested in volunteering, but aren’t sure how to get started, don’t hesitate to contact me at coral@coraldogs.com.

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