My name is Paul. Each Sunday I spend a full 12 hours photographing, processing and posting the best images I can create of 10 to 20 dogs recently taken in by Orange County (Florida) Animal Services. Other volunteer colleagues do the same on Wednesdays. However, we can not begin to cover the approximately 15,000 animals that annually pass through the entrance of this one county-run shelter. Less than one-half of those that enter are ultimately reclaimed, adopted or rescued. The rest are destroyed. Neither I nor my colleagues in this endeavor can abide these statistics and the purpose of our collective photographic efforts, simply put, is to save more lives.
Since we began in mid-October, 2011, we have photographed roughly 400 dogs, and we have been rewarded with anecdotal stories of animals that have been seen in our pictures and adopted, and we have received compliments and expressions of support and approval in various social media forums. I can tell you that the personal satisfaction I derive from even the possibility that I have contributed to saving the life of an innocent animal is like no other feeling I have experienced in my life. This volunteer work, these animals, have become a passion.
Although our work is of necessity high-volume and conducted more-or-less in an assembly-line fashion, each of us has come across at least one dog that has touched our heart, our soul or perhaps something more elemental and organic in us. This occurs despite personal circumstances that do not permit many of us to take more dogs into our homes.
In early February, 2012 I helped photograph WD17, a smallish brown and white pit bull. When I first opened his cage he sat erect on his bed, calm and still, both front legs and paws straight and together. He allowed me to leash him. He walked beside me to the outside run and sniffed and explored for the few minutes we had together. He was well-behaved and an almost cooperative model, sitting just has he had when I met him. He returned obediently to his cage. The measure I took of him - by instinct - was that of an old soul residing in a smart dog.
I was in the shelter a few days later and was not surprised to see that he had not been adopted. Pit bulls and related mixes, after all, usually do not get adopted even though they are far and away the most common breed or mix of breeds that come to the shelter. On this occasion I was present during public viewing hours, and as though I was passing along a hot tip on a sure bet, I told anyone and everyone who would listen that the dog in WD17 was a really good dog. Most people simply shrugged and moved on down the aisle. During the week I tried to follow his progress online, and by the next Sunday I was discouraged to find him still lying quietly in his cage. After our shoot, I took him outside for a few minutes. I notice that he shivered occasionally.
I prevailed on the always cooperative staff to keep him around and I let it be known that I was willing to pay for his medical treatment. He had been found to be heartworm positive and he also developed an upper respiratory infection. My colleagues put out the word about this dog, posting information about him on social media, and the shelter staff pointed him out to over 50 partner rescue groups. Still there was no interest and I was despairing for him. This past Tuesday evening one of the staff warned me that WD17 was on "the list" and his time was short. That night I could not sleep, waking often, each time with this dog immediately and foremost in my thoughts.
Wednesday was spent blessedly distracted, with my mother, my sister and her incredible six year-old daughter visiting us from out of town. But on Thursday morning I received truly great news from two separate shelter staff members, each eager to share the news. WD17 was being spared. He had been selected by a rescue group and was scheduled to be neutered on Friday and transported to Tampa to a waiting foster home. The staff members were genuinely happy for me and for this dog, and my mood soared for having worked to save his life. I thanked them for their unfailing kindness, compassion and support. I contacted the rescue and made the appropriate financial arrangements. The news capped my day, and what better example could I set for my young niece as I tried to explain to her why I was so happy? The sun was a little warmer and the sky was just a touch bluer than normal.
This morning, Friday, the phone rang. It was the rescue organization. They told me that WD17 had been euthanized by the shelter three days earlier, on Tuesday. The story of WD17 is concluded, abruptly and ignominiously. The why is silent.
Photos of WD17 can be viewed here, in our February, 2012 Shelter Dog Photos. He is the first dog shown. http://shelterphotos.zenfolio.com/p1944766