Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New year, perspective

Here we are, one full month into 2017. This marks the end of my time in Oklahoma and the last blog post of the Oklahoma era. I will be returning to my home state of Colorado,  what my role in the animal rescue world of Colorado will be, I don't yet know.
Since I began this blog a lot has happened in the town of Shawnee Oklahoma and it's animal shelter. It's been quite a journey.  I first learned about the Shawnee shelter before I even left Colorado. I would see posts from time to time about animals in need in this shelter, this gassing shelter. Rumors were rampant about the horrors that occurred at the Shawnee shelter, animals gassed for fun, animals abused prior to being gassed, an administration that didn't care. None of this really hit home until I moved to Oklahoma and became involved with members of the local animal rescue community. What an eye opener. They really did gas animals at the Shawnee shelter, at one point hundreds of animals were gassed each month. Rescues were reluctant to get involved with the shelter because it was so difficult to work with. Sickness was rampant in the shelter because animals received no vetting whatsoever. It wasn't at all uncommon for sick animals to suffer and die in the shelter. Volunteers weren't allowed, and very few rescues were involved. Being taken to the Shawnee shelter was almost certainly a death sentence for animals at one time.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to help, not just the animals, but the shelter as well. Things did not need to be the way they were! I began writing this blog in 2015. I also began a more hands on relationship with the animals of Shawnee. I began fostering, transporting, even keeping several myself.
There had been talk for some time about removing the gas chambers, but still they remained, and we're still in use.
In 2015 a new rescue appeared on the scene in Shawnee,  a group of locals doing incredible things. The kill rate at the Shawnee shelter dropped to almost zero thanks to the amazing efforts of this group. This continued until December of 2015. Word of the situation in Shawnee began to spread, eventually to a group of out of state animal advocates. This group organized a protest at the shelter. This was great news, so it seemed at first. Unfortunately this did not turn out to be the case. The first, most significant  impact of this protest was the gassing of three dogs in the shelter. Young, healthy dogs that had rescue interest. Three dogs that were condemned  to die a horrible death simply out of spite, an act of retaliation against the organizers of the protest. This act really focused the attention of the world on Shawnee Oklahoma and it's shelter. The outrage amongst the animal lovers of the world was loud and clear. In February of 2016 it was announced that the gas chamber would no longer be used. The world rejoiced, gassing would finally end in Shawnee! A local veterinarian agreed to euthanize animals by humane injection. Things were improving! Local rescuers continued to save most of the animals, but unfortunately illness was still rampant. There was still no vetting, and volunteers still weren't allowed to work with the animals. It was also discovered that animals were still being gassed, supposedly animals deemed feral or dangerous, and wildlife. Animals were still eligible to be euthanized after only 48 hours, and owner surrenders could be killed immediately. Most of the animals were rescued though, thanks to the wonderful local rescue. Despite the impressive work being done by this rescue they were the subject of a brutal smear campaign by the out of state group whose protest triggered the gassing of the three dogs in December of 2015. This group was doing everything in their power to discredit the group of locals responsible for saving most of the unwanted  animals of Shawnee . Eventually this died down and the local rescuers were able to continue their efforts without the constant harassment from out of state. 
Now, as of January 2017 we see very positive things happening in Shawnee. The gas chambers are gone, supposedly destroyed and used for scrap metal. The room that once contained the gas chamber is now an employee break room. Volunteers are now being recruited to work in the shelter. Some of the animals coming into the shelter are now being spayed or neutered. These animals are available to adopters or rescues. The shelter is open additional hours, allowing people to adopt or reclaim lost pets later in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. New kennels are being added to allow for more animals to be housed. That, and new policies on animal pick ups and surrenders  allow the animals to be safely held for much longer.  The shelter staff and the rescue community have developed a much better relationship which benefits everyone.
What a long way this Oklahoma shelter has come since I first became involved! I am so happy I was able to be a part of something so positive, and I'm very grateful to everyone who shared my posts, paid attention, and spoke up to help facilitate these changes . With that being said, please don't forget about the Shawnee animals and those who work so hard every day to save them. Also keep in mind, Shawnee is not an anomaly. There are still so many shelters in Oklahoma as well as the rest of the South, that desperately need change. Animals are still gassed, shot, neglected and abused in shelters everywhere. They need a voice and support just as much as the Shawnee animals did.