I kept up this routine for a few months. I'd take a choke chain and leash, wander down the concrete aisleway, bombarded with the frantic barking of manic dogs standing on their back legs with paws against the chain link gates that held them in. I'd pick a dog that appeared fairly friendly and looked like it wouldn't knock me over. I'd slip the chain collar over his head, drag him (or it would drag me) out the front door of the shelter and give the poor animal a few minutes outside the confines of his prison. Sometimes I would turn the dog into a fenced outside yard and allow him to sniff and smell around. Eventually I moved on to the cats.
We adopted two of these kittens.
Cats are my most favorite animal in the world. Seeing them trapped in their tiny cages, plaintively wailing to be let out, or depressed, hunched in a ball in the back of their cage, blocking out the world, almost broke my heart. Still, I persisted, stroking them under their chins, cuddling the pitiful kittens, crowded in cages together for sometimes weeks at a time.
It broke my heart, especially knowing the awful percentages: roughly 50% of dogs and 75% of cats in shelters are euthanized each year. And I'm certainly not knocking animals shelters. They do the best they can with limited resources and the overwhelming onslaught of unwanted animals. But I kept thinking - surely there is something more I could do? Raise money for the shelters? Volunteer at pet give-aways? Give speeches to educate people on the need to spay and neuter their animals?
But how much of a difference could I make? Really. One person. And then, as I became more focused on my writing career, I started to realize that perhaps I am making a difference, in the best way I can, my own way. Because without being directly aware of it - kindness and compassion for animals creeps in to every single story I write.
illustration by Nancy Lane, from my novel FINDING CHANCE
The main character in my novel might be a girl, or a boy, but in every single novel I've written so far - a starving dog, a neglected horse, a lost cat, or an animal that needs to be saved - has crept in under the radar. Not by direct choice - because I've never been a fan of books for kids with overt "lessons." But these situations find their way into my books in a more subtle way.
One of the reasons I'm such a big advocate of putting children and animals together is that caring for/about an animal (even in the pages of a book) is one of the ways young humans develop compassion, responsibility, kindness, and respect for living things.
And just as one unspayed mother cat and her offspring can reproduce more than 400,000 kittens in her lifetime - can the power of one child, or many children, reading about animals - help them develop traits that will ultimately make the world a better place for humans, as well as a more compassionate place for all animals?
Although I cannot take in every animal I'd like to bring home, I hope I've found the very best way to help dogs and cats and kittens in shelters everywhere. I will stay home and write about them.