Animals motivate Adopt a Life staff
Look at it from Meadow's point of view. Meadow, a young German Shepherd, came in with eight puppies - their eyes not yet open. She was worn out from the birthing, and scared.
The place was noisy - lots of barking. She could feel the sadness and stress pouring from her owner, *George. He was answering questions for the "Dog Surrender Form" at the Adopt for Life Center for Animals (Humane Society):
Please list the dog's positive behaviors: friendly, potty-trained, dog-door trained, sit and stay trained, good in car, not much barking, affectionate, protective.
Please list the dog's negative behaviors: somewhat shy, does not get along with cats, don't know about children.
Please list favorite toy: Kong
The volunteer asked a final question. "What else would you want people to know about Meadow to help her get adopted once her puppies are weaned?" George, a tough, tattooed and muscled "biker", dropped his face to his hands and wept. "Just tell them she's a really good dog. I can't take her on my new job out of state. She's a good dog," he repeated.
Meadow and her puppies were put in a large kennel with indoor/outdoor runs. The puppies were sheltered in a roomy crate with fresh blankets. Meadow settled in and began to nurse them. She must have wondered when her owner would return. Whenever anyone approached her cage she crouched down and growled, protecting her pups and her new territory. Bottom line: the new mom was scared, lonely and exhausted.
Meadow was far from alone, though. Reporting for his first day at work, AFLCA Kennel Associate Arturo Muñoz had set up her kennel, making sure she had room with her puppies but space to get away from them when necessary. "I've been giving her special attention every day," he says. "Her first day was also my first day here at the center."
In time, Meadow's puppies were weaned and found loving homes. They were a huge hit on the Adopt for Life Center's Facebook page. It was Meadow's turn to venture back into the world. "I love to spoil her. I walk her and play with her and give her treats," smiles Arturo. Meadow is still shy, but she lights up around Arturo. "This is the best job I ever had," says Muñoz. "I like the atmosphere. There are always changes and new dogs. The staff and volunteers are good people, even though I like dogs more than I do people," he admits. Seeing so many lost dogs has caused Arturo to be a vocal advocate for micro-chipping identification, which makes linking lost dogs and owners simple and fast.
Kennel Supervisor Lance Post has the job of making sure his team members clean the kennels, provide fresh food, water and bedding and monitor the general welfare of the 50-some dogs at AFLCA. He ensures that hygienic and safety protocols are followed. Any dog may act out under duress, so the dogs must be moved to the outside section of the kennels before rigorous indoor cleaning begins. Then they're all switched to the inside so the outdoor runs can be sprayed and squeegeed.
A solution of bleach and water is the primary tool against dirt and germs. The laundry runs non-stop, cleaning endless piles of poopy towels and blankets. The battle against fleas and ticks is also constant. Lance coordinates with the volunteer dog walkers. "There are two buildings here, and the public only see the dogs in the public building. We get together and discuss a rotation so dogs get a turn in the 'new' building, so they can get adopted." Like all the staff and volunteers at the Center, Lance's focus is on getting animals into loving homes. Though he loves all the dogs (he has eight dogs at home), he admits to having favorites. Lance's current prodigy is Ranger, a tall, friendly knucklehead.
Lance is in constant touch with staff via walkie-talkie, and responds to a request from Cottonwood Animal Control heading in with a new dog. As he sets up the cage he admits to the worst part of the job: handling the euthanized dogs. Although "Adopt for Life" is a low-kill shelter, some euthanization is inevitable. Dogs that attack humans or other dogs can be ordered euthanized by the courts. Others may arrive at the shelter too sick or injured to be saved. Humane euthanasia is administered by a veterinarian, and the remains are cremated by Ponderosa in Flagstaff.
Diana Nuanez jumped at the chance to move from volunteer dog walker to kennel staff this year. Her goal is to make sure the dozen or so dogs in the "new " building are presentable by 10:00 am when the doors open to the public. Once that's accomplished, she reports to the "old" building where she continues cleaning and feeding. She enjoys chatting with the dog walkers and makes sure she reports any issues such as illness or injury to the staff. She sees herself as a foster parent to the dogs as they wait for their new homes. "It's all about the dogs, for me," she smiles. "If I can help reunite a lost dog and owner, or get a dog adopted, that's what I'm here for." For Diana, the best part of the job is the one-on-one interaction with the dogs.
Will George's reward is to see that after all his hard work, there's a clean kennel for a happy dog. Will is a back-up kennel worker who prefers cleaning up after the cats. "Cats are easier," he claims. He backed up his preference by adopting "Marty," an orange tabby.
Surprisingly, the stinky aspects of the job do not come up in conversation unless prompted. "Poop and pee are a non-issue," says Ben Stevenson. "Poop's part of the job, and the fantastic animals, people and atmosphere totally overcome any negative aspects." Ben started his stint at "Adopt for Life" via a community service option. He continues as a volunteer, hoping a job will open up for him soon. Arturo understands Ben's sentiment. "Why wouldn't you want to hang out with dogs all day?" he asks.
"Our kennel staff are the backbone of the organization," says Director Barbie Bridge. "They aren't just people who come in and clean. They really are integral to the team. When a family comes in and adopts a dog here, there is no one more pleased than the kennel team." As if to emphasize her point, Lance walks up and announces, "Did you hear? Meadow got adopted!"
*George is a pseudonym