It’s not that numbers lie, it’s that they don’t tell the whole truth. The Humane Society of the US estimates that animal shelters care for 6–8 million dogs and cats a year and euthanize (care for?) 3–4 million of them.
With over 300 million people in the US, you would think that if only 1 out of every 37.5 people could take care of one cat or dog we’d solve the problem. As you can see on almost any outing in any city in the US, there’s not 1 in 37.5 people out there who cares.
The real hell of it is that some dogs and cats in the shelter don’t get the 1 in 37.5 chance, or even the 1 in a 100 chance. For Red Zone Dogs (more on them in a minute), they don’t have any chance.
Unless, of course, they meet someone like Carla Naden at Animal Synergy. She specializes in Red Zone Dogs, and if you’ve ever wanted to meet a real life honest-to-God shit-kicking lion-hearted Saint, look her up.
Before we get into Red Zone Dogs and shelters and the time & money & effort involved, let me start at the beginning, and tell you about one dog who did meet Carla. Let me tell you about Marvel.
Marvel is a 15-ish lb border terrier mix who has all the qualities you might want in a pet; small, loving, un-pushy, well behaved, house trained, playful, and not over-the-top active. He’s so sweet it’s almost unbearable, and he has the endearing quality of plopping down for a nap with his hind legs splayed out just behind your chair any time you sit down.
If you lay down on the floor and get on his level he becomes playful, and he so revels in human touch that it’s difficult to not continually deliver that behavior too often in short supply; the back & belly rub.
Marvel came potty trained, he’s quiet (our ACD Birdie is working on teaching him to develop that extraordinarily piercing bark so easily achievable by cattle dogs), and he seems so overwhelmed by the positive change in his situation that he is willing to put up with anything that comes along.
He sits or lays down in the back of the truck cab, doesn’t push himself onto your lap, doesn’t beg for table scraps, sleeps quietly in his crate without whining, and is still figuring out how to eat the raw food we so zealously feed all dogs who end up in our care.
Raw meat does not melt with a gentle lick, it requires the use of those tools that evolution has carefully designed over millennia and bestowed upon all dogs; sharp teeth, strong jaws, and an enthusiastic desire to scythe, crunch, and swallow your way through a carcass. Marvel is beginning to learn to use those tools.
Marvel is between 1 and 2 years old and was apparently abandoned by his last owners. When the shelter got him he would cower and growl at anyone who came near him, making him a Red Zone Dog.
The fact that he was a “Red Zone Dog” is one of those pieces of information that becomes more shocking the more you think about it.
First, what is a “Red Zone Dog” (RZD)?
Red Zone Dogs are those dogs who have been deemed by a shelter as non-adoptable. Usually behavior related but sometimes due to age or medical conditions, RZDs will growl at strangers, not allow anyone to touch them, display “whale eye” and generally behave like the frightened animals they are.
Red Zone Dogs can also be dogs too old (imagine abandoning a dog you’ve had for 15 years!) or who cost too much to keep alive (sorry Buster, instead of taking responsibility and getting you to a vet who can at least put you to sleep in my arms, we’re dropping you off at the pound.)
Red Zone Dogs are housed in the back of a shelter; you can’t see them unless you are a part of the shelter system (employee or volunteer.) RZDs usually don’t last more than a week or two at shelters. With so many dogs up at the front who don’t get adopted due to the sheer numbers, there is no hope for an RZD in the back.
Think about that. No. Fucking. Hope.
It’s a powerful indicator of the depravity in our society; we allow creatures in our midst to live with no hope.
So Marvel, a small and loveable dog, was so frightened that he signed his own death warrant without anyone explaining it to him, and it was only through dumb luck and the efforts of a few special and caring people that he made it out of the shelter system alive.
Carla Naden from Animal Synergy (a non-profit devoted to finding and re-homing special needs & geriatric dogs who have been abandoned by their owners) heard about Marvel through her work with the shelter system in San Diego.
She spent 40 minutes sitting with him in his cage, (he was “Tee the Terrier” at the time) letting him know through body language, our best form of communication with dogs, that she was not a threat and that he was safe when she was around.
Using the twin gifts of love and time, within less than an hour Carla moved Marvel from cowering & growling in fear to letting Carla pet him.
Less than an hour. Not a month. Not a week. Not even a day. Only the same time, in fact, than the average American spends daily on Facebook: 40 minutes.
If, like me, you experience sorrow that a dog like Marvel only needed 40 minutes to be saved from a certain and needled death, if, like me, you are indignant about this wickedness in our midst, if you feel, like I do, that it is not society’s fault that these animals are killed but our own, then do something.
What can you do? Devote 4 days of Facebook time (that’s 160 minutes or 2 hours and 40 minutes) a month to helping these animals.
Work with kennel enrichment programs, walk a shelter dog, foster a shelter dog, donate not just your money or your “stuff”, but that far more precious commodity, your time.
What will you get for this time? Why, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a monumental life change. You’ll live the experience of rescuing from the very jaws of death an animal that had no hope left. You don’t have to be a soldier or a cop or a fireman to be a hero, you just have to be willing to give a little time and a lot of love.
Perhaps, with your forty minutes you will not worry so much about the “get” but will relish in the “give”.
As it will for you, this monumental life change for Marvel carried over to us, bringing into our lives a dog who went in one day from no hope to the almost certainty of a long and happy life full of love, caring, and happiness.
If you’re looking for a dog who is small, sweet, incredibly loving, and who will fundamentally change you (as all dogs can), please think about bringing a Marvel into your life.
What happened to Marvel in the end? We started out as his foster family and, as so often happens, became his forever home. He still lives with us and will to the end of his days. He’s learned to bark like mad at the postman, defend our homestead from the gardener, and he’s slowly learning that humans aren’t as bad as his first batch.