Rescue Me

Yoshi and Jacob

Yoshi and Jacob

Yoshi is about six.  He was rescued from a kill-shelter by a woman running Refuges St-Chatques (a play on words for St-Jacques).  I found Yoshi last year on .    

Jacob is about seven.  Jacob came from the Montréal SPCA Annex over three years ago – one of the last of the colony of around 90 cats from a hoarding situation in a 3-1/2 apartment in NDG.  (Montréal speak – a 3-1/2 is a one bedroom.)  

Lloyd had passed at age 15, and Maris was alone, so I adopted Jacob – the friendliest cat of my little pride. While this photo is the sweetest, let it be known these two consenting neutered males of different species get up to some shenanigans that are best left undescribed at this time, if you know what I mean.  Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.

My volunteer efforts are currently elsewhere, but in the past I volunteered at the Montréal SPCA Annex, including Christmas Day a couple of years ago.  This essay is not meant to blow my own horn.  The most useful volunteers commit time week in and week out and the SPCA needs to know they can count on the consistency of these people. These people inspired the essay below.

The fact that the Annex (formerly the Emergency Shelter) is able to save so many hard luck animals – especially the puppy mill dogs, in spite of so little power in the face of such huge apathy, is testament to the unglamorous totally committed role of the staff and volunteers.

 Christmas at the SPCA

©2003 Marion Pennell

©2003 Marion Pennell

The Montreal SPCA Annex is a unique facility. Here are kept the animals before they are released from court cases for hoarders or puppy mills. Here are kept animals that are giving birth. Here are kept animals that are quarantined for minor ailments, but health and contagion protocol is clear and efficient.

Each room, and there are many, some huge for many cages, or enclosures for dogs that can handle it, has a designated purpose. Some dogs live a room that was once an office. Currently there is a single german shepherd in each of those rooms.

There is a protocol for how to walk the dogs. And the route through the building to either the side door or the front door is predetermined as well. Be very careful opening any doors.

©2008 Marion Pennell

©2008 Marion Pennell

I volunteered during the huge puppy mill seizures in 2008. There were hundreds of dogs that needed daily care, and it’s not glamorous. I kept up the volunteering for awhile, and eventually it fell off. It’s not for everyone, even for the SPCA some of these are hard luck cases. There’s a beautiful brindle mix there now, gets around great on 3 legs, what a doll.

But mainly, because of all the protocol, it’s hard to be a volunteer off the street on Christmas Day, when the person in charge didn’t know you were coming (miscommunication between person getting volunteers during the holidays and people responding to Facebook page). Every volunteer needs a certain amount of orientation.

On Christmas a lot of well-meaning people showed up at various times. Sometimes the timing meant the co-ordinator of the Annex was caught off guard. Did she have time for orientation on dog walking? Couldn’t put the person in the room with the rhinovirus, couldn’t put the person in the room with the kennel cough.

Every animal is to have human contact for at least one hour a day – sounds easy, but when many animals have sketchy histories you can’t just open the cages and let them all play. Many need one-on-one attention, and that’s a lot of man-hours.

The main chores are feeding and water – when the place is full you should hear all those dogs happy for breakfast! Many have specific feeding requirements listed on a whiteboard outside the big room. You can’t just offer up a treat or part of your lunch. You have to check each dog’s requirements.

©2011 Marion Pennell

©2011 Marion Pennell

And cleaning cages, again by protocol. Many of the cats in the ‘Blue Room’ are still pretty timid, and you clean around them, without upsetting them. Everything comes out but the cat. Litter is cleaned. Toys and blankets inspected and, if soiled, sent to laundry and replaced by clean laundry from the shelving unit.

Other unglamorous tasks like mopping floors, cleaning dishes and toys, and running the laundry are vital for the operation to continue thriving.

But the best, and one of the most important, of the tasks is what is called socialization. I call it cuddling, although some of the animals are still so fearful that if they come up to your hand and sniff it, that is a victory.

I was finishing up my volunteer shift (cleaned cat cages, observed protocol with the rhinovirus cats). And now I was socializing with a group of small dogs that are allowed to play together in the lobby.

One woman showed up, first timer, unannounced. She had called the volunteer co-ordinator who said, truthfully, even if you have no experience, there is always something you can do to help. Well I don’t know what this woman expected to be doing. Early afternoon – not time for feeding or cleaning cages – all done. Not needed for dog-walking.

Aha! Each of the german shepherds are currently isolated to an office room each. Besides dog-walking they desperately need human contact. Someone to sit with them, play, pet them, talk to them. This is a really valuable part of volunteering at the Annex.

This woman seemed put out and insulted by everything. The co-ordinator was trying to think on her feet, where could this newby help out? The co-ordinator is excellent with the animals, and has a lot on her plate. Is she always sweetly polite with all the humans? Not always. Her job is not customer service. The newby volunteer was asked to spend time with each german shepherd, individually, in its room.

She spent about five minutes in each room, came out to put her coat on. She was insulted that she wasn’t more warmly greeted. She was put out that her task wasn’t more glamorous? more pathetic? Did she expect to help in surgery or something? Oh and she travelled an hour and spent $3. She left the building around the same time I did, and was muttering “I did not come all this way just to pet a dog. “

I think that is too bad, because that dog NEEDED petting.

I don’t understand some volunteers. Do people do it for the accolades? To feel good about themselves? To be able to brag about it? To only volunteer for the most dire and tragic circumstances? Do they need to be patted on the back and congratulated?

Because the regular volunteers come in, work hard, and cuddle well. That’s what the animals need, and that’s why they volunteer: to fulfill the animals’ needs, not their own.

© Marion Pennell

© Marion Pennell


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