Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It takes a city

Submitted by EARS volunteer Suzy Hiskey of Littleton, Colorado (pictured)

The people in Cedar Rapids are amazing. I find it interesting how I am such great friends with people whose names I don’t know. I am thankful for the droves of community members who come in every day to help care for the pets. Some come in because they are lucky and want to do something to help. Some come in because they lost something and are thankful for the shelter. All come in because they care about the animals.

The visiting families are so grateful for the care we give the dogs and cats, and we are thrilled when a pet gets a visitor or gets to go home. One EARS volunteer told me, “You get choked up over the interaction between the pets and their families. For instance, one woman came in with her three kids to see their St. Bernard. It’s great to see the family interact, and the pets love it. A few dogs are so withdrawn, but come alive when they see the owners. It takes a volunteer 10 minutes to get the leash on, but then the owner comes in and dog is jumping up on her - the personality switches. It’s too bad they can’t be with their owners.”

I work side by side with the local volunteers. One man volunteering at the shelter said he lost everything in the flood except his cat. Despite his loss, he took time to come help others. They are so thankful for everything the shelter does for the community, and they only see part of it.

The EARS volunteers work from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day regardless of the day of the week. They take 15 minute lunch breaks, handle fearful and enthusiastic animals, search carefully for any sign of illness, feed hundreds of animals, cry over the sadness of a pet whose owner is still not found, and cry with joy over the reunion of a dog or cat with his family. And they take vacation or unpaid leave from work and ask their families to make sacrifices to do all of this.

Even the community members who do not come into the shelter are gracious and caring. An EARS volunteer named Ellen told me about a man she met out in a neighborhood. During the flooding, he met up with another man who had a boat parked in his garage. They found fishing nets and went up and down the flooded streets to save everything that was alive. The two men pulled two cats, dogs, a ferret, raccoons, possums, squirrels and two people out of the water. He said “everything has a right to have a chance to live.” He released the wild animals and brought the others to animal control. Ellen was struck by how matter-of-fact and humble this man was about his deeds. She was also amazed at how happy he was that only the first floor of his home was destroyed. Even during clean up, this man was concerned about his neighbor’s cat, which they’ve been unable to catch so far. Ellen, who also volunteered during Hurricane Katrina, lamented, “It’s common that pets are hard to catch after a disaster.”

You meet amazing animals too. I met the cutest dog who loves to jump up on people. I greeted her and did a 30-second “off,” "sit" and "shake" lesson. She was all over "shake" since all she wanted was for her front feet to be up on me! About 15 minutes later, here she comes again dragging a different volunteer. When she arrived the volunteer said, "She wanted to come up and greet you." It was almost like she was saying, "Come on, meet my new friend!" The dog started to jump up, but remembered that she needed to sit to get my attention. She sat immediately and offered her paw. How smart!

Now that I am home, a snippet of a conversation, a familiar-looking face, or a news story on TV reminds me of the friends I made and things I experienced. I plan to share the stories and remember the charity and resilience of the pets and people of Cedar Rapids!

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