By Audrey Lodato, Executive Director at Pets Alive Middletown
The definition of sanctuary is “A place where someone is protected or given shelter.” We take the fact that we are a sanctuary very seriously. Although it would be wonderful if we found every animal a new home within a week or two, that’s not realistic. A big part of what we do is taking in the animals no one else wants, and those animals can come with some baggage. Abuse, poor training, neglect or any number of other situations can cause an animal to need rehabilitation. We understand that sometimes the sanctuary we provide for an animal will be long term, and that we have to work hard to make sure that the life animals have here is worth living.
In this business, we call that process “enrichment.” Enrichment can mean a lot of things – special training, special housing, endless amounts of time dedicated to one animal to make sure that they know they are safe, protected and loved. Once they get that far, then we work on training them so they will be successful when they do find a new family. Anyone can keep an animal alive – put a dog or cat in a box and leave them there with appropriate food or water and medical care. It takes skill and planning to give an animal a fulfilling life when a home outside of the Pets Alive campus is something that isn’t immediately on the horizon.
When Pets Alive says we are a no kill sanctuary, we mean it. We do not kill animals. Each and every animal that finds sanctuary with us will be safe for the duration of his or her life. We promise to keep them not only well fed and medically healthy, but to also keep them happy and content. Even when it is difficult. Even when it costs money. Even when it means that we have to dedicate a disproportionate amount of resources to that animal. We would never make a different choice than to do whatever it takes to ensure their happiness. No place that calls itself a sanctuary ever would.
The skill that it takes to keep animals happy and safe means that it’s essential that we invest in our staff. The people that work at Pets Alive have endless hours of experience dealing with complex animals and we understand that an experienced staff is essential to the lives of the animals here. Each and every Pets Alive team member considers enrichment at the top of their list of priorities, and more importantly, they understand how to develop enrichment plans that will be effective for the animal and safe for the people who work, visit and volunteer here.
Your donations pay for some of the best people in the business to be on this team, so that we can ensure that the animals receive the best care that is possible. These team members work very closely with talented volunteers who are extremely committed to our organization. That’s a culture we chose to create and maintain here every day. Pets Alive would never hire a team member that did not have the skill set to keep the animals here safe and happy. There is nothing that makes it worthwhile to compromise the care our animals receive.
Enrichment plans are discussed at length here daily. Sometimes there’s a whole list of requirements just for one dog or cat.
One dog that lives here who can be particularly difficult has a whole slew of provisions in place to keep him happy. He gets assigned special staff members to maintain his housing on a certain schedule. Volunteers to work with him. A whole team dedicated to improving his skills with people. A special apartment shed made just for him. Maria brings him hotdogs every time she visits and introduces him to new people. He’s happy and I love him despite the fact that I can’t even go IN his run. We all love him. That’s why we do this.
We created a whole ROOM for a cat named Bonk-Bonk that has a disorder called Manx Syndrome, so that we could ensure that he would stay clean and healthy. We got him a friend, so he would not be alone. It cost more than a thousand dollars to retrofit that room for Bonk-Bonk, but when he is lying on his chair in a sunbeam or playing with his special plastic toys, we know that he is happy to be alive.
Our blind horse, Boo, got an entire pasture constructed just for him with special flexible fencing so that he can frolic and roll without being in danger.
When we tell you, our supporters, that we are a sanctuary, we mean that on the highest level. We want our supporters to feel comfortable when they send their donations to us. The process of providing enrichment to our animals may be complicated, but the principle is very simple. It does not matter how broken an animal that enters our care here is – how sad, how scared, or how angry. We know that things may have happened to them that we will never understand. Our job is to heal. We will, 100% of the time, do everything in our power to do right by that animal. We will keep them safe, healthy and happy for as long as we need to. We promise that to you, and we will ALWAYS keep that promise.
When you are choosing to donate to a rescue organization, it’s important to keep how your money will be spent in mind. Know we are doing everything possible to make sure that the animals we house are happy as well as healthy and safe. Although the image of the sad puppy in a cage on television might make you feel compelled to give a few dollars out of guilt, that should not be the reality of shelter life. When you give to us, you’re not only giving lifesaving. You are also giving a life worth living.