Labor Day means a carefree long weekend for many nine-to-fivers, but some laborers can’t just close up shop and forget about their jobs, even for a day. For animal shelter workers, the work never ends because the stream of battered and bruised animals in need of refuge never ends. Few people have a more emotionally wrenching job than those who punch in every day knowing that they will likely have to euthanize the animals they’ve devoted themselves to helping.
We can all help ease shelter workers’ burdens by doing our part to slow the stream of homeless animals. That means always having our cats and dogs spayed or neutered and adopting animals instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.
As someone who has spent years volunteering at my local animal shelter, I know that animal shelter staffers are some of the hardest-working people around. They scrub down poop-strewn kennels, comb animals who are matted and crawling with fleas, and give belly rubs to dogs who have never had a bath because they’ve been kept chained up like old bicycles their entire lives. They get peed on, slobbered on and covered with muddy paw prints and cat hair every day.
They heft heavy dogs onto examination tables, unload vans full of 50-pound bags of food, get bitten by petrified dogs who have known nothing but cruelty from humans, and get scratched by cats who are frantic after having gone from the home they’ve always known to a cage in a roomful of other crying felines. They cuddle cats, throw balls for dogs, slip treats through cage bars, speak kind words and give many scratches behind the ears. They do their best to make the animals’ stay at the shelter as happy and full of love as possible.
But because shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes for all the animals who so desperately need them, those who work in open-admission shelters must also perform the thankless, gut-wrenching task of holding the animals they’ve played with and loved in their arms while the euthanasia needle slides into a vein and the light in their eyes softly flickers out. These people are heroes for doing the right thing for animals even though it takes such a toll on them personally.
Breeders, pet stores and people who haven’t had their animals spayed or neutered put shelter workers in this tragic position. Every new puppy or kitten who is intentionally or accidentally brought into the world will take the chance for a home away from one of the thousands of animals waiting in shelters. Some of them will end up homeless themselves. Every new puppy or kitten means an animal in a shelter will die. And every new puppy or kitten means another broken heart for a brave shelter worker.
Shelter workers’ jobs will never be cushy, but if more people commit to spaying and neutering their animals before that first litter and if more people open their hearts and homes to the many loving, eager-to-please dogs and cats waiting in shelters, we could dramatically reduce the number of animals shelter workers must euthanize for lack of a good home. We could save thousands of lives—and make shelter workers’ lives a little bit easier too.