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June 20, 2022

Homeless Texas Dogs are Part of our Collective Meltdown

I’m having a really bad day, he said. I heard that dogs in the San Angelo shelter are being euthanized.

Pick up the phone and call everyone there you know, I told my animal-loving Texas friend. It could be just a rumor.

This afternoon, he replied with an excerpt from a Facebook post. It was not:

Upon having to make the difficult decision to euthanize, the shelter decided not to, ‘depopulate at any time based solely on the length of stay when space becomes an issue.” Instead, they consulted with their assessment and adoption team and considered the health, mental well-being, and adoptability of each dog…Each of the dogs euthanized was displaying questionable and unpredictable behaviors and was deteriorating mentally and physically in their kennel…the shelter staff…didn’t want to make these impossible decisions, but time and space have forced them to do so. It’s so easy to judge when you’re on the outside looking in.

In my heart, I had hoped it was simply another social media rumor. I went on to check in with San Antonio Pets Alive!, a nonprofit pulling animals in harm’s way from San Antonio Animal Control Services. They reported in their Pupdate newsletter:

This HOT weather has been absolutely relentless, not only in temperature but from the continuous stream of unwanted kittens and puppies being born in and around our community. I wrote an ‘I’m Scared’ blog back in April about the number of puppies entering the municipal shelter, and it remains to be the same situation…two months later. My team is doing everything in its power to give these animals a fighting chance but there are many obstacles this year.

The intake number of dogs and cats at San Antonio Animal Care Services is lower than in previous years, yet there were still six code reds in the past six weeks. SAPA! defines Code Red as 25 or more dogs and puppies being released by ACS for possible euthanasia due to lack of space. This could be attributed to the inability of people keeping their pets due to inflation, relocation issues, homelessness, and pregnant dogs entering the city shelter.

Many animal lovers are drowning in a sea of overwhelm and desperation. Shelter workers are as beleaguered as they are spent. It’s been a draining year for anyone caring about the plight of rescue dogs. And for inclusion, let’s add, homeless cats. Many in my circle of sisters-in-rescue are burning out, crying Uncle!, maxing out their Visas with donations, or crumbling in a pit of despair at the end of the day with a bottle of Cabernet and sobbing deeply.

It feels weighty on the spirit and leaden in the soul, with the raw volume of need and the contrasting ability to respond.

This afternoon, I feel the weight of the struggle as deeply as I do the love for all those vulnerable dogs sitting in Texas shelters. I feel the disappointment with manmade shelter policies that I suspect may be more economically-focused than concerned with the welfare of any one dog. I feel the frustration born of disempowerment for my own limitations, and the pain of helplessness.

I want to break up with helplessness, an intrinsic element of loving animals in what feels an insensitive world.

Desperate to find a light in the darkness and tumult of our times, I shared with my Texas friend:

There’s a lot of bad going on, but there’s also a lot of beautiful. Be with me in this moment, and enjoy the beautiful. Look at where so many dogs are going…up to Canada, to the Pacific Northwest, New England. There are places taking in all these dogs in harm’s way. 

He sighed deeply. There is so much going wrong in the world, he said, transports are less as gas prices are up. People are stealing food from the shelves at the grocery store. The government is to blame. People are making less money while the wealthier just keep hoarding more.

He was in a downward spiral propelled by the openness of his tender, loving heart. That place of deep despair and concern for all the vulnerable dogs in our time.

When I was at the shelter visiting Piper yesterday, I shared, people were streaming in to meet the puppies…all of which were saved from the high kill shelters in Texas. You have to look at the possibilities, I insisted. Just look at where we are now — we grew up with pet stores down the street — and now, these are systematically being outlawed, foster-based rescues are being birthed nationwide by thousands. It’s far better than it used to be.

He wasn’t moved. We hung up after making a commitment for a follow-up with a PetsMart Charities grant application.

I cannot do much to change the fate of dogs melting down from stress-by-shelter in San Angelo. I can, however, volunteer at my local shelter, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, and bring out the dogs for exercise to reduce their stress. I can donate a Tuesday latte to help the dogs in the San Antonio Shelter, and write a grant to help the shelter in Sterling City, Texas.

And I can tell my friend who bought a dog off of Craigslist, that he needs to neuter that puppy, literally. I can encourage people I run into, to take care of the life already here, and stop ordering up a dog from a breeder like a Japanese dish at Motomaki.

I can also hug our own Texas rescue, Willie Grommit, closer this afternoon. And while I know so very many good people in Texas trying to help, I can understand his sentiments about the place from which he comes, the culture refusing to afford spay and neuter and the cruelty of taking away the life of a dog on account of human-caused stress-by-shelter. These behaviors then become a justification for making those “impossible decisions,” those which we all grieve, and for which we feel just a little less hopeful about the state of our society.

This afternoon, in a desperate attempt to remind myself of my Ecopsychology teachings, I reread the words of Buddhist activist Joanna Macy (paraphrased here):

The problems of our time are human-caused. The solutions, therefore, are human-made.

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