Most of us go to the grocery store expecting to find fresh produce, high octane instant coffee, and Lady Gaga-themed Oreos. But last week, one unsuspecting shopper found something that wasn’t on their shopping list when they came across a cage filled with 18 live hamsters in the parking lot of Sprouts in Pasadena.
Not exactly the bargain they had in mind, I’m sure.
After we took them in, one of them gave birth, and we suddenly found ourselves with 21 homeless hamsters in need of loving homes. The good news is they are all in good health and just about as cute as cute can possibly be. Maybe even cuter than cute can be.
It’s been a weird couple of weeks.
This was on the heels of the hoarding case I told you about last week in which we took in 12 cats who had been abandoned after their owner passed away from COVID-19.
Fortunately, like most shelters in the region, we’re in the time of year when we see the fewest animals coming into the shelter. So taking in 33 abandoned animals in the span of two weeks isn’t as challenging for us to manage as it would be during the Spring and Summer months when kitten season is in full swing and more animals are outside and stray from their homes.
Though the circumstances that led to these animals coming to us are dramatically different in these two situations, both share a common theme that animal welfare agencies like Pasadena Humane have struggled to address in the community for years.
In both situations, pet owners probably started out with the best of intentions to love and care for their pets long term. But somewhere along the line, circumstances changed and got out of hand, and they felt unable or unwilling to care for them any longer. Rather than reaching out to ask for help, pets are left abandoned (very often intentionally anonymous) without a word or any clue of the animal’s past history.
So we are left to guess an animal’s age, whether they have chronic health issues, sociability and behavior triggers, and other important information that aids us in order to find the right homes for them with adopters.
Obviously the primary barrier we face most is the misperception that people who come forward to relinquish their pets will be unfairly judged for no longer being able to care for their pets. A few years ago, I read a Yelp review from someone who said they had a bad experience turning in their pet because they felt “interrogated” by the staff member helping them at the time.
I wasn’t there in that moment, so I can’t speak to the style with which that staff member chose to have that conversation. But what I can say is that over the last couple of years, we have worked really hard to train our staff to engage in intake conversations with people in a more compassionate, non-judgmental way.
We don’t ask a lot of questions in order to make someone feel bad about their decision to relinquish a pet, or to necessarily change their mind. Rather, we ask a lot of questions for two primary reasons:
- If the reason a person has to relinquish their pet is related to some personal or financial crisis, are there ways that we can help them with resources that would allow them to keep their pet? We can provide assistance in a number of ways that most people aren’t necessarily aware of, such as a pet food bank that offers free pet food and supplies to people experiencing financial insecurity, or temporary boarding for those experiencing housing insecurity.
- We ask specific questions about their pet’s history to give us a clear picture of that pet holistically so that we have more information to provide to potential adopters. Questions like whether the pet has any underlying health or behavior issues, or specific triggers that may lead to unwanted behavior, etc.
Listen, I get it. No one wants to admit that they are in over their head. No one wants to feel unfairly judged. It’s hard to admit when we need help. So I understand that for some, it’s emotionally easier to abandon a pet anonymously than have to face possible judgement, penalty fees, or punitive treatment of any kind.
Changing this cycle starts with us as animal welfare professionals. It’s up to us to change the narrative in people’s minds about what a progressive Humane organization needs to be in today’s world where we set aside our biases in order to achieve better outcomes for animals.
We are not just a shelter for homeless pets anymore. The images that I grew up with of “dog pounds” filled with lost and forgotten prisoners living in cold, dirty cages while sad Sara McClachlan music plays in a loop is not our reality anymore. At long last, our model more closely mirrors other human service organizations that provide support and resources for people in need in a compassionate, judgement-free environment.
So please know that if you ever need help, we’ll be there for you.
By the way, we have a pile of enormously adorable hamsters on our hands who all need great homes. They make excellent pets for kids and adults, so if you’re interested in bringing one home, visit our website at pasadenahumane.org/adopt to schedule a virtual adoption consultation!