In the fall of 2016, I was working in a school in Indian Orchard when a little dog appeared at the front door, then at a side door, then the back door, and so on. It was very difficult for me to concentrate on my work because I was sure that friendly looking, lost dog was going to end up getting hit by a car. Anxious, I kept peering out different sides of the building and had trouble keeping myself from heading outside. A coworker called T.J. O’Connor and someone showed up quickly to scoop up the dog and take him to safety.
With that situation in mind, I meet with Heather Kies, Volunteer and Support Coordinator of T.J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center in Springfield, MA. Heather begins to give me a tour and tells me that T.J.O. currently has 160 volunteers! It isn’t long before a retired looking “Bud” shows up to take a dog for a walk. There are few dogs in the shelter this afternoon because many are undergoing surgery; being spayed or neutered. Heather explains that spaying and neutering not only keeps the animal population in check, but also helps to keep the animal healthy and limits its desire to wander in search of “a date.”
As Heather is talking, she peers into windows of kennels where dogs are kept. We are looking for a photogenic candidate, or really any candidate. “Cage cards” can be found on each window describing the dog held inside. People can peer in and see the hopeful or sullen dog waiting for his next walk. Because of today’s operations, we only find one dog and her name is Panda. Heather asks me to hold on a minute as she tells Bud the volunteer that he will take Panda for a walk in a few. Because Panda is still on-site, I am guessing she is already fixed. I soon learn that even though she dodged today’s bullet, her turn is coming soon enough.
Heather tells me that Panda gets chronic ear infections. The painful infections happen with such regularity, that the next step is to remove her ear glands. I do not know what ear glands are, but this sounds like serious surgery. Because the goal is for Panda to be adopted, chronic ear infections could be an obstacle as they put undue, life-long stress on Panda and on her future caregivers. The cost of such an operation is not cheap. Fortunately for Panda, the Foundation for T.J.O. Animals, a non-profit group dedicated to helping animals under T.J.O.’s roof, has pledged the money to cure her once and for all.
Heather goes on to talk about T.J.O.’s mission, which is to pick up stray cats and dogs like the one I saw outside of school that day. T.J.O. Animal Control provides this service not only in Springfield, but in Chicopee and Holyoke also. They field calls on nuisance situations such as a dog barking constantly, or aggressive animals and check on reports of dogs being left outside, exposed to extreme cold for long periods or other suspected abuse.
When a dog is picked up, it is held for 7 days and during that time many attempts are made to find a dog’s owners. Those attempts include scanning the animal for a microchip, looking up the dog’s license, and even canvassing the neighborhood where the dog was found to see if there are licensed dogs matching the description of the found dog. If those efforts fail, TJO will also post a picture of the dog on their Facebook Lost & Found Album. If the owner is located, the dog will go home once all vaccinations and licenses are up to date.
If seven days pass and no one claims the dog, staff members begin an assessment to answer questions like: Is he food aggressive or aggressive in other ways? Does he have any health issues or special dietary needs? Is he house-trained? Will he do well in a house with kids? How about a home that has another dog? What about cats? Will the dog do well with someone looking for a “Netflix buddy” or will he thrive in a more active home? Much of this information will end up on a descriptive cage card located so that people looking to adopt can tell if the dog might be a good match for their household.
As the interview winds down, Heather is pulled in other directions. Co-workers are waiting to speak to her, pencils are tapping, and a waiting Bud has a bored looking Panda on a leash. I’m guessing Panda wants another walk soon before the other dogs get back and the attention is stolen. I snap a couple of photos and head out. I do have other questions but they will have to wait. Coordinating 160 volunteers cannot be an easy job, so I really appreciate that Heather agreed to meet with me.
On my way to the parking lot, I think back to how my coworker called T.J.O. a week or so after that little dog was picked up outside the school. She said: “Hey Joe, I called T.J.O. today. I couldn’t stop thinking about the little guy. They told me he was adopted the first day he was available to the public. They said cute, well-behaved dogs don’t have long stays.” A couple of days after I began writing this piece, Panda’s smiling face peered from a back seat in a Facebook post with the caption: “Panda is homeward bound”. Good luck Panda!
Panda is ready for a walk.