Featured Heroes: Leslie Smith, Will Travers, Mike Arms, and Gene Baur
By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
Many of you volunteer on behalf of animals, and some days are harder than others. When I visit a shelter, I try to focus on the good that is being done by so many who work and volunteer in animal rescue. I have a lot of heroes. Here are a few of their stories and their advice on how to cope:
Leslie Smith, writer at Best Friends Animal Society, former editor of Dogtime, and volunteer at Espanola Shelter in NM
Leslie and her husband live with two rescues: Uno, a pointer/Doberman/lab mix, and Maybe, a pit bull. Here is what she has to say: “As for my shelter visits, some days are harder than others. It always helps to be there when an adoption to “the perfect family” takes place. And it also helps to respect the people you work with (or volunteer for, in this case). At the Espanola shelter where I am now, the building itself is just a complete eyesore—ramshackle, small, just really broke down—but the administration is so supportive of each other. And most importantly, they are true animal lovers.
I recently became attached to a big red pit bull who doesn’t have much use of his left front leg; his elbow was dislocated and was never treated or reset. I don’t think it causes him pain after all this time, but he doesn’t walk on it. I would go into his kennel and lay down with him on a blanket, as much as we both could fit. He would nuzzle in close and every so often, he’d sort of flip his gimpy leg over my arm and rest it there. Because of his spotty history and injury, I was afraid that yesterday might be the last time I’d see him. And I just lost it. I didn’t just get a bit teary; I had the whole thing going: quivery lip, lamb-y voice, audible sniffles. One of the kennel managers was conducting a new volunteer orientation, and there I was, choking back sobs. (The kennel manager, by the way, called me at home later to make sure I was okay. Not mad at all that I’d made a scene during her orientation—just concerned that I was okay. Those are the kind of people I work with.)”
“For the most part, I think of my shelter days as part of my regular job. The ONLY choice I have in this life is to alleviate whatever pain or loneliness or boredom I can. It’s hard sometimes, but the guilt I’d feel if I didn’t do it would be worse. And of course, the perspective and the joy and comfort the animals give me is irreplaceable. Some of the cruelty cases are especially gut-wrenching and demoralizing. The more I’m exposed to it, the more I feel compelled to act. And as my husband says: ‘You can come home and cry all you want, but don’t bring home any more animals. That’s fair, I think’.”
Will Travers, CEO of Born Free USA/Born Free Foundation
“I have seen animals in truly terrible conditions in zoos, circuses and held by private individuals all over the world and it can be an emotionally disturbing experience. You ask what I do to keep cool and what advice I have for others who do animal rescues. I would offer the following five points:
1. Think of the animals and what you can do for them.
2. Turn your outrage and anger into positive action.
3. Do not collapse (however terrible it is). Falling apart will not help the animals.
4. Use the positives. When an exotic pet owner sees the light (e.g. relinquishes their pet primate to the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary) use that story to show others the error of their ways and that positive change is possible.
5. Be strong, be caring and be compassionate.”
Michael M. Arms, President and CEO of Helen Woodward Animal Center
When asked how he keeps his cool, he explains: “You have to steal your emotions. In order to help people or train organizations, you see and hear some of the most heart-wrenching stories and policies. A perfect example is when I was talking to a group of people ( I will not mention who or where), but a young person’s statement to me was that you have a cliché of this being a “Catch 22” situation, and his definition of this was “we catch them and use a .22 on them.” In order for me to educate, I have to understand that this was passed down by families before him and I needed to remain calm to retrain this way of thinking.”
Mike’s advice to animal rescuers is to “Never lose focus. Always stay calm. Go in one direction. Learn, then teach that this is a profession and that we are in the business of saving lives.”
Gene Baur of President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary
When asked how he remains calm dealing with difficult situations, he responded by saying: “I keep my cool by dwelling in the positive things that are happening, such as animals being rescued from bad conditions and citizens becoming empowered to make more humane food choices, rather than immersing myself in the abuses that can seem so rampant in our world.”
And regarding advice to others in animal rescue, Gene explains:
“For people involved in animal rescue, I would encourage you to tell the animals’ stories far and wide in order to educate citizens and advance efforts to banish systems, like factory farming, that create animal refugees who to need to be rescued.”
You heard their stories. What’s yours? Feel free to share in the comments section of this post. And thank you all for your work on behalf of animals.