I volunteer with a small (but mighty!) rescue group here in Southern Maryland called Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland. We mostly deal with cats, though we’ve recently begun to rescue dogs as well.
Most of the cats we find homes for come from owner surrenders, friendly cats and kittens from our feral colonies, and at-risk animals from our local municipal shelter, Tri-County Animal Shelter.
Saturday, Rescue Angels was one of the groups that participated in Tri-County’s annual Clear the Shelters Day celebration. Seventy-seven animals found forever homes that day. Watching the parade of happy animals and their new owners as they left the building was totally worth sweltering in the 95-degree heat.
As the only public animal shelter to serve the three Southern Maryland counties, Tri-County is a busy place. It frequently gets full, and organizations like Rescue Angels and others in the area step in when we can to remove animals from the shelter. This is not a no-kill shelter, so a full shelter means animals will die. New animals come in every day.
Three things struck me when I was at Tri-County last weekend.
The first is that I wish Tri-County could be this busy every Saturday. Granted, adoption fees on Clear the Shelters Day were eliminated or reduced and there was a lot of publicity for this event, but there are always wonderful animals at the shelter that want to go home with a family. Many animals end up there because the owner surrendered them; the reason often given is “did not want.”
The second is that I am increasingly amazed by the dedication of the shelter staff. They have a difficult job, and it often goes without thanks. It’s not easy to be civil to an owner who is dropping off their pet because they don’t want it anymore. It’s not easy to put down perfectly healthy animals because humans have acted irresponsibly. I can only imagine that the staff constantly feels like it is in crisis mode; they may have nearly cleared the shelter on Saturday, but come midweek, those cages and pens will be filled again with animals in need.
The third thought is that we, the community, created this shelter, and we need to fix it. Tri-County has a terrible reputation here in Southern Maryland. The kill rate for cats is more than 50 percent. The facility is small and needs renovation and expansion. It is nearly always full to overflowing. Members of the community sometimes say terrible things about the staff.
But Tri-County is constantly full because the Southern Maryland has let its companion animals down. Cats are not spayed or neutered, and they’re treated as disposable. Need to move? Drop your cat at the shelter, or worse, just leave it behind. Dog getting too big? Don’t feel like dealing with behavior or health issues? Drop the animal at the shelter.
I’ll be honest: My opinion of Tri-County and its staff has not always been positive. What makes it worse is that I had those opinions without actually visiting the shelter. I am ashamed of that fact. Since I started volunteering with Rescue Angels, I have visited the shelter many times to take cats that our rescue was putting into foster care. I have met some of the staff members, and they are always happy to talk with me about their animals. They’re ecstatic when an animal leaves the building. The shelter has a rescue coordinator whose job is to work with local rescue groups to remove animals from the shelter when they are at risk of being killed or when shelter life is impacting their well-being. These folks are animal lovers forced into a terrible situation by a community that treats its animals as disposable and Tri-County as its dumping ground.
So, now that Clear the Shelters Day has passed, I challenge my fellow residents of Southern Maryland: Visit Tri-County Animal Shelter. Talk with the staff. Visit with the cats in the free-roaming room. Take a dog for a walk. Take pictures and share them on Facebook. Volunteer. Follow Tri-County on Facebook and interact with their posts. Foster, which allows rescue groups to remove more animals from the shelter. Rescue Angels can help you become a foster family for dogs or cats.
All three Southern Maryland counties are working on plans to build their own shelter facilities. In the meantime, Tri-County Animal Shelter is our public shelter. It’s our job as the community to support the staff, help care for the animals, and reduce the number of animals killed there.
I hope to see you there, leash in hand.
By: Cori S. Meloney