A Rescue to Remember

July 8, 2015 Pets In Need was founded in 1965 as Northern California’s first no-kill animal shelter. For fifty years, our mission has been to rescue dogs and cats and find them new, loving homes.

I must have said and written this sentence hundreds of times in the few months since I started working at Pets In Need a few months ago. I understood the concept – that our staff visits public shelters and rescues cats and dogs who are in danger of being killed.

On a deeper level, though, I still had a lot to learn about what the no-kill philosophy really means. It took participating in a rescue trip for me to experience what it really means to save animals, and what exactly we are saving them from.

The trip

IMG_6781_editedLast week, I was invited to tag along and help out on our weekly “rescue run” to a public animal shelter about an hour away from ours. First thing in the morning our shelter manager and I packed our van to capacity with kennels and crates. I was nervous about the trip – other staff members had warned me that it can be difficult experience.

When we got to the shelter, the animal control officers pointed us to the back, where stray and feral cats are housed. It’s the middle of kitten season, so the cages were full of tiny, meowing kittens. Patty, Pets In Need’s shelter manager, and I counted how much room we had available. We agreed that we could stretch our capacity a little bit by housing some kittens together.

We picked the cats and kittens we planned on taking, but my eye was continuously drawn back to a single kitten that wasn’t on our list. He was an older kitten, a brown tabby that wouldn’t stop meowing and pushing his paws through the holes in the cage until I poked my fingers through to pet him. He clearly wanted attention, but the staff there warned us that he was not good with other cats and would need to be housed alone – a problem for us, given our limited space. I was heartbroken. The kitten wouldn’t stop meowing, as though he knew we were leaving without him.


We moved back to the dog kennels. The  dogs were housed behind bars in tiny, cramped quarters. Some of them came to the front of their cage so that we could pet them, while others huddled in the concrete corners. We picked the dogs that were available to us – essentially, any dog that was there more than three days and thus at risk of being killed. The staff asked us to take as many dogs as we possibly could, reminding us that the upcoming weekend was the Fourth of July, the busiest day of the year for animal shelters. They reminded us that they would need to free up space one way or another. I shuddered at what that meant. Reality – and the true meaning of “rescuing” – began to sink in.

IMG_6796_editedWe began putting the dogs into crates, a long and difficult task that often required one of us to sit in the tiny cages with a dog until it trusted us enough to come out of the corner and let us pick it up. We loaded up the car with the dogs, then went back for the cats. The loud kitten was still in his cage, shoving his whole paw through to bat us every time we walked by. It was even worse seeing him this time – by then it was clear to me that most of the animals we left behind that day would be killed before the weekend to free up space for incoming animals. I looked at Patty again, and before I had a chance to say anything she handed me an empty crate and said “we’ll make it work.” I loaded the kitten up, holding back the urge to cry at the huge sense of relief that he would be coming with us, and that we were saving him from being killed.

The Commitment

My relationship to Pets In Need and the no-kill movement has changed since that day. The rescue run made me understand more clearly and deeply that no-kill is more than just a promise not to euthanize. Being no-kill requires a tremendous amount of commitment, bravery, hard work, and fortitude. It often means staring directly into the face of a huge problem – the killing of homeless pets – and making the pledge to do everything possible to end it, each and every day.

Sitka_editedThat meowing little kitten is now at Pets In Need waiting to be adopted. I named him Sitka, and he continues to meow for attention, although his meows have become much less frantic than the first time I met him. His is just one of many

stories of rescued pets who are given a second chance by no-kill shelters and rescue organizations all over the country. Sitka was lucky, while so many animals aren’t. Seeing him reminds me every day that there is so much more work to do to ensure that every animal has a happy ending to their story the way he did.