Thursday, August 7, 2008


I volunteer at a local animal shelter - a private charity-run shelter that is the largest in the City. I drop by after work (around 3:15) and stay to around 5:30 three nights a week and 7 a.m. Thursday mornings am there bright and early until between 10 and 11 a.m. - and I walk dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, mean dogs, sweet dogs, old dogs, young dogs.

When I first began there, almost a year ago now - we had several hours training, during which we were introduced to the "coding" system; green and yellow dogs are "easy" dogs, no discernible issues - great and easy to walk. Orange dogs had "issues" - not necessarily terrible ones but things you had to be aware of; maybe they were somewhat dog-aggressive, perhaps they jumped and mouthed, could be they were really really strong and pulled. Then there were the red dogs - BIG issues - serious ones you had to be aware of.

Then there was white level - and those dogs, those dogs had HUGE issues -

The group of us that trained at that point were all orange level walkers; primarily because there were very few green or yellow dogs. Several months ago, I was asked to - and did - train to be a red dog walker - a 3 hour session.

and I love it.

Dog walking is a meditative experience for me. No matter how stressed I am when I get there, an hour later, I am calm, focused, centered; the reality of park and air, of muscle and sinew, of simply being and enjoying the moment has somehow - through osmosis or the simple reality of their palpable joy - trickled into the complicated, stressed thing that is me.

And they're ruining it.

For me, for other volunteers, for the dogs.

When I began, sheets with the colour codes clearly marked were there. You signed out a dog with the time and your initials - you read the little information that was there so you were aware of what you were dealing with. Pens were clearly marked with the dog's name, number and a CLEAR dot that signified his or her "colour". Very little margin for error. Very little chance you were going to end up with a dog beyond your skill level.

Then the union came in - a much needed union I might add. Management at this "charity" is grossly overpaid. The manner in which they treated their $10 an hour professional walkers, their hard-working animal care workers is beyond appalling. Job descriptions were fluid and at the manager's whim; the tone in which these individuals were addressed was grounds for quitting as far as I am concerned.

And management was PISSED.

Management was FURIOUS.

And, they had broken a union before. The Teamsters no less.

So for the past several months, guerrilla and more obvious tactics have been employed in (my opinion) a concerted effort to break this union. Harassment, pressure, verbal beatings - I've witnessed it all - and watched as one after another left, was fired "for cause", got fed up and walked out ....

and the latest?

In the past week, with almost no dog walkers left (other than volunteers), with animal care workers in short supply, they "hired" a shitload of kids - students, a part-time job for $10 an hour.

and therein lay the decision.

For other changes have been afoot - now completely implemented.

Dogs are no longer assessed.

Dogs are no longer coded.

In short, you have NO idea what type of dog you are dealing with.

And into this mess, they threw a bunch of naive kids. Kids with no clue about the behaviour of dogs, what dogs are capable of, that in fact, so many dogs in this shelter are there because of their very serious ISSUES.

My heart was in my mouth this morning as I watched them walk dogs I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole - me, who has spent my entire life among dogs; who has dealt with a variety of dogs and has a certain level of confidence in my ability to "read them", to understand and anticipate their body language ...

I watched them blithely walk dogs that are, to put it baldly, are viscous, unpredictable and capable of inflicting massive amounts of damage. Unaware. Innocents. Not understanding the potential damage, horror that might ensue.

Another volunteer, one who has volunteered there on and off for two years talked to me. An orange level walker, she had no illusions about her own capabilities and had opted to stay at that level, happy to walk her dogs and do her part. Three times, she said to the manager, I am confused, I don't know who I'm walking - I need guidance! Three times she was ruthlessly, rudely dismissed ...

And tonight she at home with 81 stitches in her arms.

And I keep thinking of those little children and their innocent belief that all "puppies" are lovely.

And today (BEFORE my fellow volunteer called me to tell me how she had been attacked) I called the Workplace Health and Safety Complaint line and laid a formal complaint.

And I know that if they find out it was me, I will be thrown out and banned and my beautiful puppies will have one less person to walk them.

But I couldn't live with myself if one of those children gets mauled and I had stood back and not at least tried.

I'm sad tonight at what selfish, self-centred, narcissistic people are doing in the name of "loving" animals...

But all I could think of was children with managled faces.


THE Michael said...

Seems to me that certain people need to be met in certain places by certain individuals and "talked" to.

Humility is not genetic, it is learned..........

selkie said...

the michael - they do indeed - the individual who purports to be the head is a meglomaniacal idiot - who I have yet to actually see with any of the animals he apparently "adores" ....

Angel said...

Oh my goodness!

That is SO terrible.
I can't imagine how volatile things must be there for you now - and yet, I can feel your strong love for dogs reaching out - just wanting the dogs to be cared for - and the humans as well.

81 stitches!
That's just crazy...and so sad.

Angel :(