A little more than 12 years ago, I began working as the junior volunteer coordinator at the Cumberland County SPCA. Since then, I have also been the foster coordinator, rescue coordinator, and currently coordinate the outreach and TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release) programs and the shelter is now the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter.
I have been lucky to do a little bit of everything! In my current position, I’m able to focus on animals in the community that need assistance. While I still care deeply about the animals at the shelter, they are no longer my day-to-day focus.
This transition would have been impossible for me to make just a few years ago. Even though my positions were “people” focused, I was constantly tending to the welfare of the dogs. We were always “full” and forced to make decisions just to open up space for the new dogs coming in.
We had few foster homes and fewer rescue partners. Some of the dogs were difficult, traumatized, sick, or injured, and we didn’t have the resources to give them the help they needed.
But that is the past and the shelter has grown by leaps and bounds.
Thanks to the development of new and exciting programs, I am confident that the dogs at SJRAS are in excellent hands and receiving the best shelter care they could possibly get. If CJ came to us now, he would have benefitted from our enrichment program, which would have reduced his stress levels and in turn, improved his behavior.
More volunteers means more walks and less time in the kennel.
CJ would have been considered for foster care, and if his situation became urgent, we would have appealed to the 100s of rescue partners we work with.
I keep a picture of CJ in my files and each time I look at him, I still mourn his loss, but I also celebrate how far we have come.
To illustrate this growth, we can take a look at Toby. Toby is an 80 pound, 2-year-old American Bulldog. He arrived as a stray back in November, when he was almost impossible to handle due to jumping and mouthing. He fixated on cats and lunged at the kennels as staff tried to walk him.
Toby has been adopted and returned twice for being “too much to handle.” But these are no longer deal breakers, they are challenges. Returned twice? Not a failure, we just hoped he enjoyed his sleepovers!
Jumping and mouthing? Actually quite normal for a pup who hasn’t had the opportunity to be trained.
Lunging at dogs? We now understand that behavior through kennel doors means nothing about a dog’s ability to get along with other dogs (and Toby has since passed several dog tests, as well as a cat test!).
Toby is still at the shelter, waiting for the home that is just right for him. Years ago, we would have hoped for him to get lucky; today we wait for the family that will be lucky enough to have him. Because through enrichment and dog meets and education, we can see all the wonderful parts that make up Toby, his goofy personality, his potential, the love he has to share, and of course, his incredibly handsome, yet adorable, good looks.
It’s amazing that our staff has opportunities like this to grow and shine. Most importantly, it improves the quality of life and outcomes for the dogs in our care, but it also makes for a safer and all-around better work environment for the staff as well.
I’ll also mention that our canine behavior specialist spent a lot of time with Toby while he was here, and he believes that Toby is a great dog with tons of potential!
While there is always continued room for growth and improvement, it’s also important for us to appreciate how far we have come and be excited about how far we can go.
Last year we achieved a live release rate of more than 90 percent for our dogs! This means that more than 90 percent of the dogs that entered the shelter had a live outcome through adoption, rescue placement, or owner reclaim.
While it is an amazing number, we never lose sight of the fact that each number represents a life saved and every life saved and enriched is an achievement to celebrate.
Shelter needs: Dry cat and kitten food (no dyes please), canned cat and kitten food, hot dogs, cheese slices and sticks, tuna pouches, bite size training treats, and gift cards to grocery, pet or hardware stores.