Stray Rescue of St Louis
Hello and welcome to my blog for this Monday, August 10th edition or at least this installment. Today I am going to relay my experiences from my volunteer day with the Stray Rescue of St Louis.
In the past when I have done volunteer days for various organizations such as food pantries and a few other charitable groups it was OK. You sift through clothes or work through donation boxes for viable food items to repackage and box up for needy families. All very noble and worthwhile causes but at the end of the day it wasn’t something that really connected with me. I have thankfully never been homeless and in that urgent need of even basic items much less food or clothes. I am not trying to say those people doing that much needed work is not a good thing. It obviously is but on personal passion level it didn’t stir me. Companion animals move me. I grew up around big dogs and halfway through my life found my inner cat lady. So when the opportunity arose to do the stray rescue day through my employer, I signed up for the one in August and also the one in September.
My friend Melody, who I have known forever, regularly volunteers at the Humane Society and I see her weekly doggie updates (Hi Landry! Tell mommy you need a brother named Romo!). Occasionally she posts a feel good story when one of her favorites gets adopted and I really dig that. So I showed up early with my group from work and went through a brief orientation and quick overview of the shelter. The Stray Rescue is not like most other shelters. First, the organization is a no-kill shelter. There are animals who have literally been there for years with no expiration date on them. If they are not adopted, there will be a place for them until the zombies take over the world. But unlike other shelters, this organization only takes in literal strays. They do not accept surrendered pets or overflow from the local pet stores. The founder, Randy Grim, and his team monitor the surrounding areas for packs of stray dogs. He brings in strays who have gotten sick or been injured for care. Not every stray he sees gets brought in, some he just feeds and monitors their movements otherwise he would need a place ten times the size.
In orientation, I was told that through the organization there were in excess of 600 dogs with Stray Rescue – about 150 of them were at the Pine Street facility and the rest were in foster homes. Also closer to my heart, they have around 60 cats also in foster homes – there were three in kitty condos (cages) at the Pine Street location.
Forgive me but I didn’t really get any names of the people who manned all the stations of this well-oiled machine as I was checking out all the doggies. Guys and gals were answering phones and lugging the endless amounts of doggy laundry to and from the washers and dryers. Some of the same staffers also were handlers – harnessing up the dogs to hand off to the volunteers to walk with a short summary of each dog and their likes and dislikes.
In short, the experience was amazing and a bit heart-wrenching. The staff was so transparent and open about their passion and pleasure they take in caring for these animals. Everyone was so hands on and they did a great job of trying prepare each volunteer for the dog they would walk.
Another very cool thing about Stray Rescue is that once the dogs are in the system they are in the system for life. What that means is once a dog is brought in, they are micro-chipped and they are entered into their database. So if the dog, let’s call her Reunion (actual dog), gets adopted out to a family and for whatever reason she didn’t work out with her new family and that family surrenders her to another shelter or if she would run away and get brought in to a place that checks for microchips – she would get returned to Stray Rescue – instead of maybe a death sentence at a kill shelter. Once in the system, the animals of Stray Rescue are part of their ‘family’ for life.
I got to walk four dogs by myself: Freckles, Zada, Racer X and Kool-Aid. There were two other dogs that I shared walking duties with another volunteer – but those four above, I held their lead rope-like leashes for my walks around the city. If any of you have experience with equines, you know what a lead rope is. If not, it is really a rope-like leash unlike the flat ribbon-like leashes for most dogs. The lead rope leashes are necessary as most of the animals at the Stray Rescue are Pit Bull terriers or mixes of larger, more powerful breed dogs.
Upon entering the different areas that house the dogs (Intake, Phase II, etc) the cacophony of barking is a bit overwhelming at first but then you acclimate like a fish in a bag sitting in the bigger tank. The volunteers are given open access to the various areas to wander in and out between the cages and see a picture of each dog plus notes about their social behavior along with any feeding instructions or medicines needed. When I say cages, you may envision bare wire cages in row after row with a couple of bowls in the corner for food and water but not here. Yes the cages are made of wire (some areas have small plexiglass rooms instead of wire cages), but many of them have PVC or hard plastic sheeting attached to the cages to shield them from the constant visual activity and give them some sense of personal space thus making it less stressful on the animals especially the ones that are not as social with other animals. Yes they have food and water bowls and also cot-like doggie beds to sleep on. Some of them share quarters for the more social animals or if they are siblings and get along.
The Stray Rescue is a not-for-profit organization that has been in operation since 1998 based off of fundraising and donations. The network of volunteers and foster families is truly staggering. One man’s vision and passion spawned this awesome enterprise. If it hasn’t been evident until now, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. On the grand scale of what this organization does, I did virtually nothing. I walked some dogs, picked up their poo and helped their maintenance guy move some un-assembled cage parts so the gas company could do some necessary upgrades in their adjacent warehouse. That’s it but it felt like a great drop in a much larger bucket.
Giving a needy family a box of clothes or toiletries or food is nice but humans are very resourceful and can often work out their own complex problems. But for most part, companion animals that have been abandoned by their humans to fend for themselves without complete animals in wild instincts is harsh and unfair. I understand not everyone holds the same values or same priorities in life. I get it but when you agree to take on the responsibility of caring for an animal you need to see it through. If life and finances dictates otherwise, at least reach out to someone to give the animals a chance of a happy life instead of chaining them to a tree or locking them in an abandoned house to starve and die. The very thought makes me physically ill and causes my eyes to water. Every pet I have lost in my life (except fish lol) has caused me to shed tears. My cats and dogs have all held a piece of my heart. Each one has had their own quirky personality and when they passed the pain was a physical thing. So the thought of people casting off their pets in such a callous way is incomprehensible.
In a world of such frivolity and waste, it is nice to fall asleep at night knowing there is a Stray Rescue and places like it. Compassion is a slobbery tongue licking your face or a kitty headbutt to say, “Hey. Human. I like you and just love me in this moment.” Isn’t that all any of us want anyway?
If you are in the St Louis area please check out their facility downtown at 2320 Pine Street. They obviously accept monetary donations but they also take blankets, collars, pet food and other things associated with animal care. One of the easiest things to donate is your time so give that too. Should you do not feel comfortable walking the dogs, you can still help with other less strenuous activities. If you are interested in finding out more about donating or just have general questions about their organization you can send them an inquiry through their contact form on their website (Stray Rescue Contact Form) or just give them a call at 314-771-6121. The staff is super friendly and very knowledgeable.
In closing, the majority of my volunteer time was spent walking the dogs. I got in some cardio and these dogs got to spend some time outside. Of all the dogs I had and saw handed off, not one of them was scary. Granted these dogs were very anxious to go on their walk and very strong but each one after about two minutes was the biggest softie. They all loved to be petted and most responded to verbal queues. My first dog of the day was Freckles and my last one was Kool-Aid. They were all great dogs but my favorite was Kool-Aid. She was an almost feral pickup that they have been working with. She is paired with another dog in living quarters and was just the sweetest. After being anxious to get on the walk, she was easily led by the leash and responded to the half-whistle/half-kissy noises I made. When I was kneeling next to her, she licked my hand and face several times with her tail happily wagging. Best part of my volunteer day hands down. I hope she gets adopted soon along with the rest of the residents.
To the author, businessman and animal lover that is Randy Grim – I wish you longevity and much happiness sir. To steal a little from the St Louis Cardinals, I also wish Stray Rescue Nation good juju to keep doing their great work for a very worthy cause. We all just want to be happy and loved and a great way to find that is with a dog or a cat.
Peace my friends. Have a kick butt week.