Professionals, volunteers and foster and adoptive pet parents provide heartfelt care for countless animals in our community, and the animals care for them right back.
When I was growing up, our family always had pets. From dogs and cats to skunks and ferrets, we maintained a modest mix of lively furry characters to care for, and they cared for us.
While we pay for food and toys, vet visits and maybe a pet sitting service when needed, it is the shared bond of friendship, play, loyalty, nurturing and unconditional love that we give to our four-legged family members that is of immeasurable value, and it is with this currency that they repay us for life.
About a year ago, my mother, Joan Street, found herself at age 65 and dog-less. Oh, she had a cat, Echo, a cheeky little thing that we often refer to as “the monster that lives under the bed.” She’s not mean in a traditional sense. She just regards drawing blood from others as a form of affection, and she does indeed live under my mother’s bed. This was not the most fulfilling pet relationship for my mother, so she went on a journey to adopt a dog, and she took me with her.
We first met McGhee, the lab/pug mix who would soon become our newest family member, at an event that included the Humane Society of Tampa Bay’s Mobile Adoption Center. He was sporting a vest that had “Adopt me” written on it, and we were immediately convinced that this dog was the perfect fit for our family.
He was medium-sized dog, but with his sturdy build we felt he could handle the rough and tumble play of his soon-to-be cousins, two Labrador retrievers owned by my brother and his girlfriend. Plus, we could see how well he socialized with the other dogs at the event. This was the dog for us.
We tracked him down online through the Humane Society of Tampa Bay’s website, and within a few days we went to see him. The organization’s Pets for Seniors program allowed my mother, who is older than 60, to adopt her new friend for reduced fees.
Throughout the adoption process, from visiting with the animals to speaking with the staff and volunteers and watching them as they worked, we were both touched by the genuine love and care we witnessed from each staff member and volunteer who worked with these animals. I wanted to learn more about these special caregivers.
What I learned about the Humane Society and its dedicated team was even more incredible than my experience with them. In 2010, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay saved the lives of 5,728 dogs and cats, provided 10,675 affordable spay and neuter surgeries, sterilized an additional 4,999 free-roaming cats to prevent unwanted pregnancies and treated 8,259 pets in its Wellness Clinic.
I interviewed Twila Cole, director of development of the Humane Society of Pinellas, who provided additional information from across the bay. According to Cole, The Humane Society of Pinellas cares for approximately 3,000 animals annually, including wildlife, continued care, community services and admission/adoptions. It averages about 1,600 adoptions annually.
Rescue Agencies Rely on Volunteers
I wanted to know more about the people who care for these animals and make these incredible services possible. Cole said that in addition to its staff, the Humane Society of Pinellas relies extensively on volunteer support. With a variety of programs for both teens and adults, it averages 300 active volunteers in its database. Every department of the Humane Society of Pinellas offers volunteer opportunities including dog and cat caretakers, front office support, event support and foster programs.
There is one particular difficulty many volunteers face, and this is their attachment to the animals. Cole said, “Humane Society of Pinellas volunteers are here because they love animals and want to help. With our ‘No Time Limit of Adoptable Pets’ policy, some animals are in our shelter for a lengthy stay. It can be difficult to love and care for the pets without taking ownership of them.”
If anyone in the community, from teens to adults, would like to help their local Humane Society, there are countless ways to be a caregiver to these thousands of deserving animals. In fact, volunteers are welcome to assist in every department within the Humane Society, from caring for the pets to assisting with administrative tasks. Donations also are greatly needed, and community members are invited to assist with donation drives for supplies and with fundraising efforts and events.
Prospective Caregivers Should Work to Find Right Fit
As for the at-home caregivers who adopt these pets, there are a few things to consider for a successful adoption to make sure you are providing a forever home to your new friend. Cole says that families who wish to adopt a new pet first need to consider their lifestyle. Cole said, “Be sure that you are ready for the commitments you are about to make for the new furry family member coming into your home. Do you have the time, space and financial ability to care for this chosen pet? We also ask for the entire family to meet the new family member to do our best to ensure that the match is a successful one.”
How these animals arrive at the Humane Society includes a wide range of referrals and stories, many heartbreaking, with families increasingly having to give up their beloved pet due to financial hardships that have forced changes in their living situations and don’t allow for their pets.
Cole advises that preparation is key. This can be a very difficult and emotionally painful process for a family, and planning ahead is the most important thing. Cole said, “Whether it is due to financial reasons or change in family structure, the more you can plan ahead for pet surrender the better it will be for both the family and the pet.” The Humane Societies are limited-admissions facilities, so planning ahead is imperative as an intake application process takes time.
As for McGhee, my mother’s new friend and as she often calls him my new brother, he is as happy as can be. The whole family, including my brother’s dogs, has welcomed him in with open arms (and paws). I take him out on adventures to the park and beaches and other events around town, and he’s a very popular guy in his neighborhood where neighbors, both two-legged and four-legged, can’t wait to greet him and play a bit.
McGhee has found his forever home with this new family, and my mother proudly sports a decal on the back of her car in the shape of a giant paw print reading, “Who rescued who?”
To view animals for adoption, volunteer or make a donation, contact one of these rescue agencies in Largo: