When we came up with the idea for Take Paws to Volunteer earlier this year, it was because I wanted to give back to the communities we visit as we travel around the country. Spending a day each month pitching in at the local animal shelters, and sharing the pictures of the animals I met, seemed like a small contribution.
Little did I know what a big impact it would have on me! Getting to know the staff and volunteers that keep the shelters running smoothly, seeing a dog relax a bit when you take time to snuggle him for a few minutes, and watching a cat come out of her shell when you pull out the feather wand – every shelter I visit is a little different, but their passion for caring for animals is the same, and I’m getting far more out of this experience than I’m giving.
Last week I volunteered at the SPCA for Monterey County (SPCAMC). This animal shelter has been ministering to their community since 1905, and what a magnificent job they do! Any animal in need in Monterey County – from dogs and cats, to horses, to wild animals like humming birds and bobcats – can count on the SPCA to care for them and, hopefully, return them to their home or find them a new one. Last year 5,648 dogs, cats, barn animals, small pets, and exotic animals were sheltered here, and the shelter provided 4,341 spay and neuter surgeries, investigated 811 reports of cruelty/neglect, and rescued 2,307 injured and orphaned wild animals.
What’s more astounding is that they are a nonprofit, independent, donor-supported humane society – meaning they don’t receive any funding from other agencies, a parent organization, or tax dollars. Everything they do – from rescuing animals from cruelty to saving a baby bird that fell from his nest – is made possible by their compassionate, generous donors.
The facility itself feels more like a pet boarding facility than what you might think of as an “animal shelter.” Soothing music from Through A Dog’s Ear plays quietly over the sounds system, dogs are out for walks around the courtyard or snoozing with their pals, and people sit in the community cat rooms, stroking the kittens and teaching them how to play with toys.
After a quick tour, it was time for me dig in and get to work. Much to my delight, I was assigned to spend the day with the shelter’s photography team, getting intake pictures of the animals that had arrived since the last photo session – and what a learning experience it was!
The SPCAMC was the first animal shelter to benefit from the Shelter Art Foundation‘s mission to turn shelter animals into stars. The foundation provided professional studio photography equipment and taught the staff and volunteers simple techniques to take spectacular photos of the animals. They noticed that better pictures translate directly into shorter stays in the shelter. And the evidence bears it out … the average stay of an animal at the SPCAMC is just seven days.
The photography team started with the big dogs and had moved on to smaller dogs and cats by the time I caught up with them. It was like each animal had their very own mini professional photo shoot! One room at the shelter is set up for photos and as we brought each animal in, they were spiffed up a bit if they needed it. A few stray furs were trimmed, faces were wiped clean, and then the pets were ready for their sitting.
The thing is, these dogs and cats aren’t very good at sitting. They wander around, sniff stuff, and try to jump off the table, but the photography team handles each animal with an unspoken fluidity. With the patience of saints, one person posed and reposed the animals again and again, so the picture would show their best features. Other members of the team would squeak balls, make funny noises, or call to the pet to draw their attention to the camera. And the photographer would shoot photos after photo – waiting to capture the tilt of the head, the perk in the ears, the dance of mischief across their eyes.
And the results speak for themselves …
After a long day of primping and posing, the photographer heads home to start editing the photos and uploading them the website. Their dedication to these animals is an amazing thing to witness, and I’m grateful I was able to be a part of it – if only for a day.
I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that nearly all the pets I met on Monday are already in their new homes! But, there are many more adoptable animals available at the SPCAMC that you can admire here. And, if you’re in the area, keep your ears perked for the shelter’s annual Pet Telethon. The next one will be held on Saturday, January 24th from 6-10pm. It airs on the local CBS station and streams live online for everyone to see. Tune in to see adoptable pets, heartwarming adoption stories, amazing rescue stories, and more. It’s a great event that educates the community, raises donations, and finds homes for wonderful pets.
My sincere thanks to Beth Brookhouser at SPCAMC for arranging my visit and showing me around, and to the wonderful ladies on the photography team who welcomed me into their studio for the day. I also want to send my appreciation to Cloud Star and Alcott for their generous participation in the Take Paws to Volunteer Program. The all-natural treats and adventure gear they donate to the shelters we visit each month helps make these animals’ wait a little more pleasant.
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