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A Holiday Thanks to Shelter Workers

Posted November 28, 2013 in A Vet's Life

Imagine caring for 6 to 8 million dogs and cats each year. Now picture having to euthanize half those animals every year for little or no pay. That’s the job our heroic animal shelter and rescue personnel and volunteers perform each year. For them I am eternally grateful.

I worked at my local county animal shelter for two years during my undergraduate studies. As a budding veterinarian, I wanted to experience as many facets of animal service as possible. What I learned was that some of the most caring, selfless, and amazing people work and volunteer in animal shelters. Dr. Ernie Ward at the beach with his dog I also learned it was going to be the toughest job I would ever hold until I owned my own veterinary clinic many years later.

Animal shelter and rescue caretakers enter into a relationship with an animal knowing the odds of placing them in a new home are less than 50-percent. That was one of the first lessons I learned as a shelter employee: It’s okay – even essential – to become attached to a dog or cat; just don’t get too attached. People who work and volunteer in shelters know this feeling. After your heart is broken for the hundredth time, as you witness through tear-streaked eyes your favorite dog taking their last walk to the euthanasia room, you learn a new way to love; you accept, embrace, and understand you’re probably going to get hurt. And somehow you continue to love and give even as you’re hurting. I’m thankful for everyone who is willing to lose a little chunk of their heart in service to animals.

Going into a shelter, cleaning, feeding, brushing, and loving something you know may not make it to the end of the week is about the hardest challenge I can imagine. After two years of working in a shelter six days a week as a 19 to 20 year-old, I gained a profound appreciation for those who spend their entire lives dedicated to animal rescue and providing shelter for homeless and displaced pets. My experiences shaped me into the veterinarian I am today. I’m thankful I learned a side of animal service that not all veterinarians are exposed to. Having to personally participate in euthanizing 30 or more animals a day made me intensely committed to changing our society’s attitude toward pets. I’m thankful to call myself a veterinarian and a protector of animal health and welfare.

When you give thanks this holiday season, I ask you to remember those in our animal shelters. They will be up before dawn on a chilly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s morning to clean litter boxes, scrub cages, and offer a spark of compassion and kindness to an animal that may have only ever known pain, suffering, and loneliness. That is why I’m thankful for everyone who works or volunteers in animal shelters, rescues, pet foster, and other selfless animal services.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of PetHealthNetwork.com, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.

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Ernie has more than 20 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a well-known veterinarian, media personality and author. He is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer:

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.