The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Animal shelter ugly, but full of life


August 12, 2018

I brought what I thought were the right bits of equipment to launch my volunteer work at our local animal shelter — old clothes and the worn sneakers, collar and leash, dog and cat treats.

I didn't realize the best piece of equipment would be a little, portable seat. I couldn't figure that out until I found a role, a place, in the life of the shelter itself.

Our shelter in Portales is not pretty. I sometimes imagine how inspiring it would be to witness an army of volunteers descending on the place to launch a makeover. Yet, the shelter vibrates with life.

The variety of dogs and cats can make the visitor pause and almost spin around at every step. It's like being transported into a refugee camp in the center of town, but one that isn't on the map.

Here, I become the concierge of castoffs. No animal comes here because things are going well. But, there is no reason a collar must be too tight, that a puppy go without a chew toy, that a pee-soaked cushion remain long in a kennel, that a warm bath be denied to a senior friend of a senior citizen who has passed away.

My small camp stool comes in handy; it gives me a place to pause and see the array of needs I find here.

Well, some residents are pretty vocal, but one must read body language: the dog or cat who retreats and collapses in the corner; the litter mates in play, oblivious to their incarceration; the escape artist ready to spring at the slightest movement of a latch.

After some days, I began to sense that all creatures in this building, human and nonhuman, are caught up in a tide of life and loss, anticipation and resignation.

At least for now, most animals here are rescued, fostered, or adopted, thanks to the around-the-clock work of rescue volunteers and nonprofit organizations. A convergence of their efforts eases my mind while I move down the rows. But there are more menacing lines of thought about domestic creatures in my community.

I've heard the under-the-breath comments that challenge the very notion of a shelter for these lost or abandoned creatures: Why all this shelter protocol? Who needs a staff? A short trip to that field down the road, and a bullet in the back of the head would do it.

That is all our wild-West bravado proposes we owe to fellow creatures.But its proponents are the descendants of the overland settlers I study in my work, people who mourned the death of the oxen, mules, and horses who brought them here. Nineteenth century letters and journals are loaded with tributes to those creatures who were sacrificed to American ambitions.

I wonder what local descendants would think of those heartfelt memorials to domestic animals.

How does one contribute to the wellbeing of our domestic creatures? I hope there is some power in the ordinary, and the quite domestic presence of a volunteer with her mop, or a volunteer at the sink, holding a wet puppy.

If we are present and mindful, it cannot be so easy for the brute within to overwhelm the places we've given the name "Shelter."

Linda Sumption volunteers at the Portales animal shelter and recently launched an animal studies club at Eastern New Mexico University. Contact her at: [email protected]


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