When we went to the Oakland Animal Shelter it was near Christmas and we were one of many families who I am sure walked through that door looking for a new pet for Christmas. Of course, we understood that we were not looking for a pet just for the Christmas Season...We were looking for a cat that we would adopt to become a cherished member of our family. We were referred back to the cat holding area (And you'll forgive me if i've forgotten some of the physical description, it's been a long time now) where we first went to look at the cages where they kept small kittens. Every cage was standing empty! Christmas rush, they told us, everyone wanted to bring kittens home for the children on Christmas day. We did want a kitten, but we also knew that the kitten days are fleeting and this would be an animal that would be with us for many years to come.
In another area we found the cages for full grown cats, there was another family already there looking at the last two cats that were available for adoption. One handsome white cat and a green eyed, calico female. My brother was taken with the calico, and we quickly went into another room to speak with an adoption counsellor.
After we filled out our application, we paid our adoption fees and were quickly on our way back home with our new cat. We were so excited for the new addition that we took her out of her box in the back seat of the car, where she huddled and meowed miserably during the car ride. We dubbed her 'Kitty', originally, and brought her home to be doted on.
In her early years, she spent plenty of time giving us suspicious looks and plenty of scratching and biting when we wanted to play past the time when she was done with us. Over the years she became calmer and friendlier, following us from room to room, sleeping with us in our beds, greeting us at the door and demanding cat treats.
We adopted our Kitty from the Oakland Animal Shelter thirteen years ago now, and I am thankfull every day that we found her. I was seven years old when we adopted kitty as part of our family, and when my brother and I grew up and moved out of our home she came with me. She has been with me through many moves, many good times and bad times. When my boyfriend and I moved in together and we realized his severe asthma was triggered by the cat, who slept in bed with me, we were forced to make a compromise. It's always a hard choice when you have to push away someone you love so much.
But he got used to sleeping on the couch, I promise. And over time, and with an inhaler stashed in every room of the house, he became acclimated to cat fur and the cat accepted him as another provider of cat treats.
I am thankfull every day when I think of how many happy years i've been able to spend with this cat, and occassionally I think back to when I first saw her in that holding cage and wonder who dropped her, who would not have wanted my beautiful cat. When I hear all the negativity surrounding operations at the Oakland Animal Shelter, all I can think is how grateful I am that they took my cat in, and let me meet her, how many happy years they have provided for us both.
So before you concider boycotting or avoiding a certain shelter, remember you might miss out on your perfect pet and lifelong companion. Success rates or not, we can only move forward when we accept the failures of a shelter as the failures of a community. It can be hard some times to see the good when you have to measure the success of an organization by statistics and numbers.
But I will always measure it against the smile of the shelter worker who gave us our beloved cat, thirteen years ago.