One of the things only a few know about me is my connection to animals. I come from a family of animal lovers, and I have always had pets from cats to dogs to ferrets to fish. In my twenties, in fact, I managed veterinary clinics, a job I loved and that was both so rewarding and so challenging. My whole life has been tied to our furry, feathered, and finned friends, and so I have a very natural connection to places like our local SPCA. Often the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I visit the Fort McMurray SPCA just to cuddle the cats and hang out with the dogs, but this past week I went to the SPCA for a different reason. I went because I wanted to learn more about what they do.
I think there is this perception that the SPCA "just" houses stray animals and adopts them out to new owners. And that is part of what they do, but it is truly only a part. They also engage in many more programs, from education about pet ownership to Containers for Critters, an initiative where the public can donate recyclable beverage containers to benefit the shelter. They also operate some pretty unique and amazing programs like "Nine Lives", which matches senior cats with senior citizens in our community (and as someone who has read the studies showing the beneficial effect pets have on health and longevity I recognize the fundamental value of this program), and "Animal Safe Haven", which provides temporary homes to the pets of those individuals who are fleeing abusive or violent domestic situations but fear for the safety of the beloved pet if it is left behind. These programs go far above and beyond the adopting out of stray animals, and are clear evidence of the importance of the SPCA in our community - but the SPCA does even more than that. The SPCA takes in those animals in need - strays and surrenders, ones needing temporary care and ones needing new forever-homes, and it gives them not just food and water and veterinary care. It gives them love.
The SPCA also engages in novel ways to promote adoptions in the community. This month in honour of Halloween they offer "Black Cat and Black Dog Month", and with every black animal adopted the new owner will receive a certificate for a pumpkin and a bag of Halloween candy from Superstore (one of the local businesses that so kindly supports the good work of the SPCA). They also run various fundraisers throughout the year in their effort to maintain the level of care required by their many residents - and they do, sadly, have many residents.
Often the SPCA is full to the rafters, with a waiting list of those needing to surrender pets due to personal circumstances. The need to adopt animals out to make room for new arrivals is constant, and the pressure to find room for another cat or dog immense. Add to this that the shelter is "no kill" - meaning all animals are safe from euthanasia - and you have a situation that often means there is "no space at the inn". Numbers usually hover about 80 dogs and cats in the shelter at any given time, with some at foster homes as well (and foster homes willing to take animals for short periods are always needed, too). 30-35 animals are adopted every month, so the turnover is constant, but still there is always a new arrival to take the place of the recently adopted. Kennels and cages do not stay vacant for long, if at all.
When I toured the shelter I took photos and chatted with the staff, and what was most evident was their commitment to not only their jobs but to the animals in their care. You see, I understand that very well. When I managed veterinary clinics I probably smiled more, laughed more, and cried more than at any other point in my life because it was never just a job. It was a job with a salary, yes, but it was also a love and passion for these creatures that share our lives. I would cry when a special favourite was injured or ill, and I cried with many owners when they suffered the loss of a beloved pet. I would smile and laugh to see owners with new puppies or kittens, and I would watch as they grew and the bond between them and their owner grew, too.
There is a saying that states "dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole", and I believe this firmly, but think it goes for all pets and not just dogs. My father was a farmer who grew up on the prairies, and while not all farmers are animal lovers he was. My father was the man who was followed by every pet we owned because they loved him so, and he was the man that carried dog treats on his daily walk to give to every dog he encountered along the way. My father understood the value and importance of animals in our lives, and he spent many years eating meals with a cat perched right beside him under his right elbow waiting for small morsels of food to be slipped down to it (explaining why all our family cats resembled small rotund footstools with heads). He passed this love and understanding on to me, and I have lived a life surrounded by pets - and I am pleased to say that the Intrepid Junior Blogger has inherited this trait as well.
When I did my SPCA tour they mentioned that they had in their possession a small ferret that someone had brought in saying they had found it. My ears perked up at this since, you see, the Junior Blogger happens to have two wee ferrets, and I owned three ferrets myself many years ago, back when I was working in vet clinics. I asked if I could see the little ferret the SPCA had, and they agreed - and I fell in love with a small bundle of fur and eyes and teeth and mischief all over again. I went home, told the Junior Blogger, and when the SPCA contacted us to say the ferret was up for adoption and asked if we were still interested (as I had indicated we might be) I knew what the answer would be.
So, on Saturday, the Intrepid Junior Blogger, her father, and I made a little visit to the SPCA where we picked up a small ferret who joins our resident ferret gang. We brought her home, and within minutes she was sharing the cage with the two other ferrets who welcomed her into the fold with grooming and clucking (the noise happy ferrets make) and playing. And the Intrepid Junior Blogger? Well, I have found her cuddling all three ferrets several times since Saturday, arms full of ferrets and with a look of bliss on her face. The SPCA might think we did something special for them by adopting - but in reality it is they who did something very special for us.
And so it is when you adopt a pet. You might think you are doing something good for the animal, and you are - but really it is you who will benefit. It is you who will find your life enriched. It is you who will experience the unconditional love of an animal. It is you who will reap the rewards of a bond that goes back to the very beginning of time when we first began to share our caves with animals who ceased to be wildlife and instead became part of our life. They are not our whole lives - but they do make our lives whole in every way.
I encourage you to visit the SPCA and check it out. Perhaps you might want to consider adopting, or fostering. Maybe you want to think about donating some cash or some much needed items to them (lists of these items can be found on their website). Or maybe you just need an infusion of "wholeness" into your life, the kind that can be found by cuddling a purring cat or walking a happy dog. The SPCA stands at the ready to help not only the animals in their care but to help all of us to connect with those animals, and to develop the kind of bond that has been shown to improve our lives in dramatic ways. In this world where we can often feel disconnected and less than whole the SPCA provides us with the ability to engage in one of the most enduring, basic, and fundamental bonds that exists - that between a person and an animal. I know this bond well - and it has been one that has given my life true meaning.
My genuine gratitude to the
for the recent tour,
for all the work they do,
for all the love they show,
and for letting a little ferret
now named "River Song"
join our family :)
If you are on Twitter I would suggest
following @fmspca - hands down the best
non-profit Twitter account in the region,
and probably one of the best Twitter
accounts of any variety.