I volunteer at the county shelter every Sunday. I take pictures of small animals and cats for their website. I don’t take dog pictures because I’m the only photographer there on Sundays. Some of the animals are available for adoption, most of them are strays. My “work” is tied to the seasons. It crackles in the spring, sleeps in the winter. Summer is all about being cool, baby. Fall, well, Fall is the end of times. Quiet desperation.
I know the reality of the place. I’ve deleted pictures off my CF card because that cat will never go up front. I don’t go there with some macabre death wish; those are the things that eat at me. I go there because that gray long hair let me pet her kitten today; that little kitten that looks oh so much like my cat. To me, the shelter simply is. There is no discounting the bad, nor is there any belittling the good. In the course of a day, I see almost every aspect of the stray and adoption process. I find at least one animal I want to take home every week, too.
I start in the Small Animal room. Varmints. Guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, snakes, turtles, cockatiels, parrots, etc. etc. etc. I took a picture of a pigeon once. Honest. Some lady called in a stray… street pigeon, beady red eyes and all. Almost anything goes in the Small Animal room. Ferrets are great. I like the uncle association I have there. I get to play with these unique little critters, but don’t have to take them home.
Next is the cat room, my favorite. 60 cages, with volunteers on one side and adopters on the other. Yeah, they’re in jail, but they get constant attention from friendly people, and they’re up for adoption. I get to see how the purple haired girl’s tats are coming along, canoodle with the cats. It’s a happy place; things are looking up for the inmates. Good behavior gets you time in the cat room. It’s all Salvador Dali to us, but it’s heaven for a cat. Someone even thought up bookshelves right next to the door, to ambush unwary photographers.
Now, it’s on to cat holding and the Mary Ellen Feline Room. CH1(stray), CH2(adoption overflow), MEF(sick), these are all cramp rooms. Tight quarters to take pictures in. There are rows of stainless steel cages built into the wall. Most of them have sticky doors. I wind up rattling more than one cage every week trying to get a door open. The cats reach out as I go by. Gimme a smoke, copper. There are two kinds of cats in Cat holding. The door dasher and the badger down a hole. Eyes are a universal marker for cats. They judge your mood based on how wide your eyes are. I try to approach cats with slit eyes. Then I stick this giant camera lens in their face and take a flash picture. I’m usually pretty popular in CH until I start taking pictures. For the strays, getting a mug shot is the best way to get back home, so I persevere.
The adoption overflow cats still have an uncertain future. If adoptions keep pace with entries, things are fine. Sometimes, CH2 overflows into cages in the hallway, and the hallway after that, and the garage, and the bam. This year hasn’t been too bad; there are no cages full of kittens out there. I like it when I don’t have too many pictures to take in the back. 28 new cats in two days this week, a slow day.
Then I go back to the office and drop off my CF card. If the weather’s good, Amber’s waiting in the car. She gives me a sniffing that would get a restraining order from anyone else, and off we go. We go on the Farm walk and make fun of the Emus. I found this picture in the way back, behind the “ify” horses. Anyone who’s studied the Holocaust will recognize what it is. Still, the shelter isn’t a place of evil. When I go there, I do only good, I provide only comfort, and I take away only happiness.