Westward HO the Dogs and Cats!

Prior to the launch of my book, Beyond Flight or Fight: A Compassionate Guide for Working with Fearful Dogs, I took a much-needed two-week vacation. Nothing calms me like a road trip in the country, so I packed my trusty sky blue Subaru and headed into the brilliant autumn colors of western Colorado and eastern Utah.

Colorado Humane Society Visits

In each town I visited I found the local humane society and visited with staff and the pets they cared for. Despite financial limitations and a variety of levels of technology, every shelter I visited was clean, and the staff personnel were caring and compassionate.

People who worked in the shelters were of all ages and experience levels; some sported gray hair with hiking boots while others tucked up blue and maroon locks under backward baseball caps. Some were adorned with tattoos and piercings, some gold watches and diamonds. But every one proudly wore the logo shirts of their organization.

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The Dream – Helping Special Needs Dogs

The most touching person I spoke with was a clean-cut young man with passion in his voice and yearning to learn in his eyes. He had recently been hired and asked to organize a dog training program for the bouncy mixed breed dogs that continually landed in his small-town humane society.

While we spoke he leaned towards me, as if wishing to capture every word that floated out of my mouth—like the area’s native Indian dreamcatchers gathered nocturnal and unconscious images. Dreamcatchers catch all dreams, but filter nightmares and allow them to drip down out of the web through the hanging feathers that blow in the breeze and disperse bad luck. The good dreams are caught and kept, often in a stone gem near the center of the catcher’s web.

And so this young man followed me during my tour and asked intelligent and insightful questions. His goal was to continue in the dream he had developed while serving time in a penitentiary. While incarcerated, he had been accepted into a dog training program and there he found his own salvation in the needy eyes of homeless dogs.

Once comforted by my acceptance and respect, he proudly showed me his certificates of accomplishment in the prison dog training program. He had completed all the levels of proficiency and now was thrust out into reality—knowing his life, and the lives of the dogs under his tutelage, depended on what he could develop and pass on in life skills.

Succeeding in the world of other humans would keep him out of trouble, as it would the rejected shelter dogs he sought to save. We promised each other to stay in touch, for he excited my desire to pass on knowledge I have gathered in over twenty-five years of animal welfare work.

Local Communities Helping Out

In another shelter I was greeted warmly by a girl whose wisdom was beyond her youth; her enthusiasm while telling me of her shelter’s programs overpowered the myriad barks of dogs in concrete kennels that echoed off concrete walls. Sunlight filtered in through the windows of the small and old-fashioned building as she excitedly explained the fundraising program the mostly indigent community was donating to for a larger, more modern facility. In the meantime, they made do, caring for unwanted pets and providing lessons in compassion for local school children.

A larger, privately run shelter provided daily walks for their dogs in an expansive fenced play area. The executive director and operations manager personally led me on a tour of their facility and showed me warm respect as we talked about my soon-to-be released book and the issues they experience with fearful street dogs and abused dogs brought to them by the local law enforcement officials, with whom they have pioneered a partnership.

Some of the shelters had computers with software records of intakes, food and medical records, and adoptions of their animals. Others hung hand-written notes on each kennel door and kept stuffed file cabinets in offices. But regardless of size, modernity, technology, age, location, or community demographics, each shelter housed the loving energy of people devoted to their work; each shone with hours of cleaning, regardless of luxuriousness; and the dogs and cats in every kennel looked contented, well-fed and medically sound.

For the last ten years I have volunteered at a gigantic, highly equipped, and internationally studied big city shelter. It has been around for over a century and my first childhood dog came from this, the only shelter at the time. Through the years I have watched the organization grow and with each burst of budding new programs and physical structure, I have seen thousands and thousands of homeless animals cared for, loved, and adopted. It was easy to take for granted the high-technology, advanced programs, 2,000+ volunteers available, active foster department, and the ever-present television and radio advertising that brings adopters in droves.

I have been proud to be associated with the passion of the donors, management, staff, volunteers, and city-wide acceptance of my home shelter.

On The Way Home

But, on my long drive through mountains, plains, deserts, farmlands, ski resorts, and cliff dwellings, my eyes were truly opened to the determination, focus, and ongoing efforts of every small town that loves its pets. Even in the smallest, dustiest, poorest, or other-focused communities, I saw compassion, kindness, and respect bestowed upon rejected, sick, homeless, and woebegone dogs and cats.

My trip made me even more passionate and proud to be a part of this growing movement of fighting towards a day when there will be no more cruelty, abuse, neglect, or homelessness for the animals we domesticated thousands of years ago for our own uses. I came home energized and ready to continue on my own mission of saving the lives of fearful dogs.


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Sunny Weber

Sunny Weber

Sunny has over 25 years’ experience in pet rescue, humane education, shelter & sanctuary work, service dog training, obedience competition, dog & cat fostering, pet medical care, horse ground training and has authored articles and books in several fields.

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