A volunteer at our animal shelter gets back as much as he gives. A personal essay.
Marcello… waiting for the right home at ARNO. Photo: Laura Richard
Mike’s edited essay to ARNO was published this week in Gambit, a weekly newspaper for and in New Orleans. You can leave a comment and thank Gambit for publishing and see the story online.
I'm a longtime animal lover. My wife Barbara and I have a dog named Leo and five cats that have all been rescued from the streets or local shelters. I've been a volunteer at ARNO since last October. My primary role is to walk, nurture and socialize the dogs that have been abused and neglected.
I pull into the parking lot of the no-kill animal shelter operated by Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO). A scripted glance into my rear-view mirror reflects the sight of Marcello, ‘my’ foster dog, performing flips at the sight of my arrival. On a scale of 1 to 10 relative to world importance, my volunteer work at the shelter nurturing and walking Marcello is perhaps a 1. On a scale of 1 to 10 relative to personal gratification, it is unquestionably a 10.
Marcello is a two-year-old black-and-white pit bull mix who resembles Petey the pup from The Little Rascals. He was rescued by ARNO's Lise McComiskey less then a year ago near a bar in Central City. Neighbors told Lise that people often threw bottles at him, and someone had even burned his fur and skin with chemicals or a blow torch, probably to try and make him mean. Despite his former neglect and abuse, Marcello is one of the most affectionate dogs in the shelter. He is extremely bright and knows how to sit and lay down on command. Our unconditional love for one another has brought us both immense joy.
ARNO came into existence in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Its all- volunteer staff labored feverishly to rescue hundreds of cats and dogs left homeless by the unforgiving storm. Many animals lost during the storm have been reunited with their owners by this stalwart bunch of volunteers…some as late as this past fall. In some cases owners have never been found. With its initial post-Katrina objective met, the shelter turned its attention to rescuing stray and abused animals. The job of caring for 200+ dogs and cats 24/7 is a grueling task. The reality that they do so with an all-volunteer staff and private donations is extraordinary. The altruism that I have witnessed since I have been involved with ARNO is something that I have never seen. On Christmas Eve night (like other festive holidays and weekends) when the rest of us attended parties and gatherings with our friends and families, ARNO volunteers spent the evening cleaning, feeding, and nurturing animals that may have been discreetly destroyed by more traditional shelters. I never hear anyone at ARNO complain about their work. The oneness they achieve through their labor of love is all that matters.
Mike dancing with ‘his’ Marcello at Barkus. Photo: Laura Richard
I enter Marcello’s kennel and attach a long leash to his red collar. His spring-like flips rapidly subside into happy- tail and exuberance. He has waited the entire day for this moment, or so he makes me believe. Perhaps we both have. Giving him his first treat of the evening, we leave his run and enter the dampness of a chilly winter night.
If public apathy regarding neutering and spaying (and adoption) is not aggressively addressed, the geometric birthrate of dogs and cats will continue to place animals like Marcello at risk.
In contrast to ARNO’s no-kill policy, the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter destroyed 7,700 dogs and cats in 2008. To place these numbers in a more comprehensible yet less palatable perspective, they reflect that the shelter puts down an animal every hour of each day, 365 days a year. While it is difficult to grasp what it means to euthanize thousands of dogs, puppies, cats and kittens each year, it is more difficult to comprehend the anguish of those who must perform the task. The thought that someone at the municipal shelter must report to work each day knowing that they will have to inject a lethal dose into the veins of 20-30 precious animals is chilling.
Following our walk through the streets of Elmwood Industrial Park in Harahan, we arrive back at ARNO’s parking lot and sit on what is called the nurturing swing. Marcello gladly takes his position and stares at me in anticipation of his next treat. Sitting in front of the swing with a military like-stance, I give him his reward. He quickly eats the milk-bone and jumps onto my lap and falls into a peaceful sleep.
The solution to animal overpopulation cannot be found by opening more no-kill shelters. Groups like ARNO only have the capacity to house and care for less dogs and cats then the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter destroys on a biweekly basis. The crisis of animal overpopulation also cannot be resolved though euthanasia. For every dog and cat that is destroyed, there are dozens that come into being. If public apathy regarding neutering and spaying (and adoption) is not aggressively addressed, the geometric birthrate of dogs and cats will continue to place precious animals like Marcello at significant risk.
Marcello. Photo: Laura Richard
After giving him his final treat, I unleash Marcello and he eagerly retreats to his small kennel. He suddenly appears subdued as if anticipating tomorrow. Walking towards my car, I turn as he stretches on his small mattress in the far corner of his run, seemingly content to know that he is loved.
ARNO needs you as well!
ARNO is seeking volunteers for a wide spectrum of activities that includes walking, nurturing, fostering and socializing the many dogs and cats in our care, as well as cleaning kennels and disinfecting surfaces. We will train you, all you need is love and kindness in your heart for animals. ARNO particularly needs dog walkers from 6pm to 8pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Gather a couple of friends together and come for exercise for you and the dogs! Volunteers must be at least 16 years old, able-bodied and have a commitment to help animals acquire a better quality of life. To learn more about ARNO's work read more on our website, help us continue through a secure donation online through our Paypal link, or become a volunteer. If you want to volunteer please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adopt don’t shop from your local shelter or ARNO.
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