I haven’t been sleeping so well lately. I have a few big things coming up — my friend’s wedding this weekend. Mine a few days later. Work stuff and other stuff.
But what’s keeping me awake now isn’t any of that.
I’ve been volunteering at an animal shelter for seven years and I love it. I don’t think I’ve ever really written about it here, and it’s not because it’s not important to me. Rather, it’s too important, too big, to much to explain. I’m the lead volunteer at a satellite cat adoption center inside a major pet supply store, which means I have a list of responsibilities, and one is approving or denying applications from people who want to adopt cats from us.
When it comes to volunteering, my greatest joy is watching a human and an animal connect. A few weeks ago I approved the application of someone who decided to adopt three cats from us at once. I spent almost an hour talking to her on the phone the day before, and quickly understood she wasn’t the proverbial “crazy cat lady.” She simply fell in love with three cats and she and her husband had the room and resources. I felt on top of the world when this adoption went through. Since then, the adopter has sent me several updates and photos. Everyone is happy.
That’s my greatest joy. One of the things that keeps me up at night — like now — is the wildly unfit adoption applicant. I came across two such people today, and I’m haunted.
Wildly Unfit Adoption Applicant 1: Her app looked fine, for the most part. But I found an inconsistency and followed the thread and found out she recently surrendered an old, overweight, diabetic cat to animal control because she was unhealthy. The cat was later euthanized.
Then just last month, she surrendered a dog to animal control because she couldn’t train him. The notes that the receptionist read to me over the phone (HIPAA laws don’t apply) said the dog had basically been neglected and was aggressive toward people and other animals, so he was euthanized, too. (I should note that neither of these pets were listed on the app where we ask for past pets.)
Wildly Unfit Adoption Applicant 2: Her app looked fine, for the most part. But today when I called the vet she listed, I was told her cat, who died two years ago, hadn’t been to the vet since 2007. The vet didn’t do the euthanization, so I wondered what happened because there were gaps there. I planned to call her tomorrow.
But she saved me a call when she stopped in tonight to check on her app. I asked her about her previous cat. She said she let him outside all the time, and that he cracked his teeth and split his ear and was a really tough cat, and told me all this in a bragging, proud tone. Keep in mind she lives in South Philly, not in the country or even the suburbs. You can’t let your cat outside here.
The cat became very sick, so rather than taking him to a vet, she took him to animal control and signed the papers to surrender him. Of course he was euthanized.
Unfortunately, this happens. Animals who are sick or have behavior problems are euthanized. And yeah, there are assholes who’d rather dump their animals at a shelter rather than doing the right thing and getting the pet medical care, and/or standing by their side if they can’t be saved. Some even dump their unwanted cats in the aisle or the bathroom of the pet supply store where the little adoption center is located.
What chills me is that they’re seeking other animals. We care for the shelter cats so lovingly, we market them on social media, we cuddle them and play with them and celebrate when they’re adopted into a good home. The goal is to look for reasons to approve people, and to always seek the best possible home for every cat.
These two applicants represent some of the worst that’s out there. And what’s messed up is that there were no obvious red flags on their apps. If I hadn’t pushed for more information once I came across something worrying, I might have approved them.
Recently I was rushing through an application, approved the woman, and she adopted a cat from us. Later I learned she was on our “do not adopt” list — which I forgot to check. She indicated on a past application (which was denied) that she’d declaw, then she defended her pro-declaw views when asked about it. Now we have to worry about the poor cat she adopted, who might be dismembered, because of me.
Tonight, I told Wildly Unfit Adoption Applicant 2 that I wasn’t able to approve her. She turned nasty and snatched the application from my hands started to storm off. I took two huge steps and managed to get it back from her, “for our records.” I seriously trembled, I was so shaken up.
The lesson here is that the skills I used as a reporter — to ask “nosy” questions, to listen to my gut when things don’t look or sound right and track down the information I need — are still as relevant to me now as they ever have been. And maybe I should look at these two applicants as dodged bullets. Maybe they’re actually success stories because we didn’t put any other animals in their care.
Maybe I’m just telling myself that so I can go to sleep, but that sounds pretty good to me.