by Candace Bailey
On January 27, 2016, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) assisted the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Hoke County Sheriff’s office by helping to rescue nearly 700 animals – dogs, cats, horses, birds, and other farm animals of all breeds and ages. The animals were seized from an unlicensed “no-kill shelter” The Haven – Friends for Life, run by Linden and Stephen Spear.
Once in the ASPCA’s possession, the cats and dogs were housed in a warehouse in an undisclosed location to keep the animals and humans safe. Try to wrap your mind around that – nearly 600 cats and dogs in one giant warehouse. Try to image the personnel needed to care for that many animals. The ASPCA had limited paid staff on-site, running that temporary shelter. Where did the rest of the help come from?
Volunteers from other organizations across the nation who team up with the ASPCA in times of need. The Oregon Humane Society is one such organization; when the ASPCA put out the call for help, OHS responded, along with 56 other groups, for more than 600 volunteers pitching in for weeks of daily and medical care for these animals.
OHS has a program called Emergency Animal Sheltering (EAS). OHS volunteers who have met certain requirements take courses and attend trainings and drills in order to learn about emergency animal sheltering, disaster preparedness/relief, FEMA incident command system, etc. These certified and trained volunteers give of their time and talents to assist with ASPCA in various scenarios – from disaster relief such as rescuing and caring for animal victims of Hurricane Katrina, to animal care and handling during dog fighting busts and/or cruelty and neglect cases.
OHS has sent teams of volunteers, from two to six people to a team to serve one week at a time, over the last two months, to help staff the shelter, provide daily care, socialization and enrichment to the animals, and to assist the medical team. Five people were gracious enough to share their thoughts with me about their recent deployment.
They each found that having been prepared and trained by OHS before deploying was vital.
“The training and practice sessions we have had at Oregon Humane Society, as well as prior experience working with 100 to 150 animals in OHS Investigations cases, prepared us well for the NC operation,” explained Amanda Ferguson, regarding her first deployment with the ASPCA. “Training in Incident Command System was also very helpful to understand how the whole operation was organized.”
Amanda found that the ASPCA rescue was “well-organized and well-run[.] Jobs are clearly defined, the routine is structured, and everything has been well-planned.”
JT Thoeni, who has deployed with the ASPCA previously, praised the boots-on-the-ground staff. “I was pleasantly surprised by the ASPCA staff who are overworked, underpaid, and still have the best attitudes and really, truly care about the animals. I was not surprised by the well thought out organization of this operation, I expected it.”
“I was as prepared as one could expect to be in an emergency type of sheltering situation, but since every emergency and rescue situation is different, you can never be 100% prepared,” Malyia Pladziewicz (another ASPCA deployment veteran) added, and she’s right. Every situation is different; you think you know what you’re stepping into, but you never really know until you’re in the midst of serving. Managing the care of nearly 600 animals is a daunting task, but each volunteer was up to the challenge.
This was Dona Gaertner’s first deployment with the ASPCA, and she agreed. “I was surprised by how quickly we could slip right in and provide the assistance needed. I think the experience provided by working at the OHS EAS was invaluable. In addition I think the OHS training really helped me be an immediate asset even though I was assigned to work in areas that were new to me. I liked and appreciated the stretch.”
Lynne Jones has also deployed with the ASPCA previously, and she shared “It is hard physical work, long days and working as fast as you can the entire time, but it is a beautiful rewarding experience. Despite how hard it is, I just want to go do it again as many times as I can. That surprised me.”
“It’s no joke that this is physically hard work but it’s a “good tired” you feel at the end of the day,” Dona admitted. “Harder than the work is the emotional hook-up with the operation and how difficult it is to go when your time is up.”
That was also the hardest part for Lynne as well – “[w]alking away after only one week of service,” and Malyia felt similarly. “Having to leave and knowing you will probably never know the individual fate of the animals you become very fond of.”
When asked what was the best part of volunteering for this effort, each individual spoke of the animals they cared so diligently for, the focus of all their hard work.
Amanda: “Seeing daily improvements in animals I was giving daily medical treatments to! Because my job was to assist vets and administer medications to dogs and cats (mostly dogs), I got to visit many of the same animals day after day and see the gradual progress they were making– things like seeing arthritic animals finally get some pain relief, matted fur get cut and brushed, sick puppies regain health, damaged eyes get less painful with eye drops, awful mouths get dentals, and so much more. And of course just spending time with those animals each day was a great joy!”
Dona: “The best part was being one of the ones making a difference for every animal every day. They are on the road to something better and I showed them kindness along the way with words, with food, with a clean place to sleep and with a toy or treat to occupy their time. Not all were in a place to appreciate the gestures but all were safe and sheltered with love.”
JT: “Knowing that the animals seized are in a much better place now with excellent daily care, medical, and behavioral staff working toward the goal of a bright future for each animal, and thinking that in some small way I helped with that.”
Lynne: “Knowing that the day you served was better for those animals because you were there, and knowing you contributed to their recovery from abuse or neglect.”
Malyia: “Seeing the joy in the animal’s eyes when they see you and knowing you are making a difference to make their lives better. And meeting amazing people from all over the nation that share your passion for animals.”
Since these volunteers have returned, others from OHS have deployed to help finish up the rescue. The ASPCA had a massive adoption event on March 18, 19, and 20. During that event 524 dogs and cats that were able to be adopted, were. What an incredible feat!
I’m very fortunate and proud to know these incredible human beings and call them friends. They served willingly, eagerly, and without expectation of anything for themselves other than a satisfaction of a job well done and the knowledge that the lives of animals in need were enhanced by their care.
Across the board, they all agreed: if you get the opportunity to help out and volunteer, be it for your local shelter or rescue, or for a larger national organization – do it!
“Roll up your sleeves and give of yourself.”
“Always keep in mind the main goal, which is to help the animals.”
“Sign-up, be ready to work really hard, and cherish every moment.”
“Be prepared to LISTEN and absorb as much as you can from the moment you hit the ground.”
“Be prepared for very long, hard, fast paced, physical days and possibly, depending on your disposition, some intense emotions. And bring a watch.”
— Candace Bailey juggles working full time at a desk with devoting as much free time as possible to animal welfare and her own herd of pups. Candace is an active volunteer for the Oregon Humane Society, where she is involved in a myriad of programs. Along with her husband Bill, they have six dogs, affectionately referred to the as The Littles – Benny, a poodle/beagle mix boy adopted from OHS; Maggie and Millie, Lhasa Apso girls; Bubba, a Lhasa Apso boy from the OHS Second Chance program; Pudgy, a Chihuahua boy; and Katie, a Mini Dachshund girl from the OHS Columbia Co. rescue.