With the Curse Comes the Gift

Maybe it’s coincidence that I’m writing this blog on Christmas Eve but I’d say not so much.  Even thought I know well now that the best gifts don’t come in wrapped packages.  I find the best ones come in less tangible forms…good friends, great loves, special moments and experiences. And yet I might be exaggerating a bit if I said that when this experience began I knew that it would ultimately be one of the best gifts ever.  While I did hope that when our vet quit suddenly in September that there might be a silver lining, the truth is that I could not have ever imagined what it was to bring.

The immediate problems were obvious and felt just awful. Appointments scheduled for weeks into the future would need to be canceled. Next would be what would we do with our Clinic staff while we searched for a new vet or even a temporary replacement. Without the income from the clinic, the real question was could we retain that staff during the down time. Not far behind would be what would we do for spaying and neutering shelter animals, as we’d quickly become so accustomed to the convenience and the low cost of our own clinic right across the parking lot.

It was very unsettling to say the least. I had no idea how difficult it would be.

Hiring veterinarians in our area would prove challenging enough. Little did I know how in demand vets were and Parkersburg not the dream location for every job hunting veterinarian.   When I contacted a friend in rescue, the President of Best Friends Animal Society, Gregory Castle for his guidance, he admitted to me that even the largest rescue organization in the world struggled to attract veterinarians to their rescue because of its remote location. But he’d help as he could referring potential candidates that didn’t want to move to Utah to us. Greg has been a great friend before and I’m always so appreciative his help.

But unfortunately there are those that weren’t quite so friendly. It was incredibly upsetting to learn that one local vet were discouraging others from working for us. In fact a vet offered to help us as a relief vet if and only if we would NOT disclose their identity for fear of repercussions by other vets in the community. How sad!

While it will took me a while to find the silver lining in that realization, I know now that knowing your “enemy” is better than being ignorant to their existence. And honestly I’m not sure what is most alarming. That those we thought understood and supported our efforts turned out to be against us or that those that are expected to be the greatest advocates of the animals would choose profit over compassion.

Whatever, it has been a learning experience that I won’t soon forget.

When we thought we’d found our vet in October I was so relieved and excited! But that relief was short lived as a week later we’d learn that they’d changed their mind. That was a kick to the gut and sure didn’t feel like any kind of gift.

However just about the time I thought the world was against us, the silver linings would start to show themselves.

There would be the great support from the staff and Docs at VCA who have been consistently in our corner for as long as I’ve known Dr. Mills and Dr. Carole. They found room in their busy surgery schedules for our animals. Providing support for us and our animals! And always, always treating our homeless animals as dearly loved and treasured family members.

Then would come Dr. Pinkston. It would be impossible to quantify the value of Dr. Pinkston’s friendship. She works at the spay/neuter clinic in Barboursville and was willing to be very generous in sharing her free time to work relief hours at our clinic. Her help, while not cheap was in fact  priceless!  Helping meet the needs of all those appointments we had to cancel as well as to keep up with our shelter’s needs allowed us a much needed sigh of relief.  But even more valuable she restored lost faith for those that might view our clinic as competition for their own. She didn’t care one bit about competition. For this moment we were all on the same team in the fight against pet overpopulation! And more!

The expertise she shared with us, her protocols and procedures, her guidance and experience have all been invaluable to us. And last but certainly not least…actually most importantly, Dr. Pinkston helped to show us what was possible with everyone working together! We learned through her that we can do so much more.

With her guidance, our staff and a group of incredible volunteers who rolled up their sleeves, gave up their weekends and jumped in with both feet and their huge hearts, we became a real team! When one Sunday morning after we’d completed all the dog surgeries for the day in short order with a comfortable flow, Dr. Pinkston yelled from the surgery suite “You are NOW a high volume spay neuter clinic!” I thought I might cry.

On a very personal level, the feeling of actually being a part of helping out in the clinic was so rewarding. Being a part of the team doing such incredible work was amazing. And fun! Being right in the midst of helping people get their animals fixed at a cost they could afford was truly as rewarding as anything I’ve experienced in a very long time.

But on a larger level… much more strategic was that we would soon realize that we could meet if not exceed our original goal for being a high volume spay/neuter clinic and in doing so we could do more to help animals in need. Yes, we’ll need to hire additional staff but with the right team we now know that the potential exists to offer those that cannot afford “normal” vet fees a low cost option.

We all too often receive animals into our shelter for no other reason than their owners cannot afford their vet care. Whether simple allergies, eye issues or more severe, too often the only option we can offer someone with a pet that has a health issue is for them to sign it over to us where we will then provide the care it needs. Not only do we bare the cost of this care but also these animals end up taking up vital space in our shelter and our staff’s time to find them new homes. Just seems to make more sense if we could find a way to offer vet care they could afford and allow them to keep their pet.

Yes, yes, I know…if you can’t afford a pet you shouldn’t get one. I’ve preached that sermon myself.  But the reality is people have pets (and children) they can’t afford. So do we try to help them get the care they need or do we continue to fill up our shelter with animals who have homes and families that love them but can’t afford their vet care? Seems the former is a better option especially if we have the resources, time and skills to do so.

So we reset our direction… establishing a new goal for ourselves in our search for a vet.

Along the way, I have to mention another silver lining that was exposed. And while she’ll resist this mention, through these very challenging months I learned what a very strong leader we have in our Director Michelle Earl. As if the loss of our vet wasn’t enough and struggles to find a new one, our Clinic manager Sunni Dils faced extremely critical health issues that took her away from the job for weeks. Michelle handled well both the weight of her “normal” job which in no way is normal and the addition of Sunni’s during a difficult time. And she did exactly what she needed to do under pretty extreme pressure but did so demonstrating what I sadly see lacking in people in management which is consistent, clear, calm leadership.   Not just to her staff but to our organization as a whole. And that is such a great gift to all during these trying times but also for our future.

And finally, the loss and trying times brought us what we needed most of all…our new Vet. Who not only brings expertise in high volume spay/neuter and a special interest in shelter medicine but an attitude, sensitivity and passion for what we want to do in our community around pet overpopulation and low income services!

As I told her, initially we just wanted to hire a vet to get back to the job of spaying and neutering. Almost 4 months later, I no longer wanted that as that would be missing the mark I now know we can hit.  I wanted a member of our team who would be passionate, vocal and motivating leader. And I’m confident we’ve found just that!!!!

I played sports growing up and learned much about teamwork, leadership and integrity in the midst of the games I played. As I drove home the day we found our new vet I couldn’t help but liken the last few months to those days and those games. While in this “game” we took some hard hits (got blindsided in fact), felt the disappointment of loss, we also learned much about how the game could and should be played, the generosity of our teammates and in some cases, the integrity of our competitors, who shared their skills with us.  Along the way we made some new friends and shared victories that were so sweet that they helped erase the losses from our memories.

Undoubtedly the path has been difficult and at times disheartening, but somehow and for some reason we have been blessed with many gifts along the way too. Maybe it’s simply because at the core of what we are trying to do there is so much goodness. But whatever it is, through the curse of challenge has come the gifts of new friends, the reassurance of old ones and new faith and hope for the future and all that we are going to be able to bring to this community and it’s animals in need. And for all of those, I am eternally grateful!

At the end of the day I am reminded that you can’t really know the elation of winning unless you feel the pain of loss and that sometimes with the curse come the greatest gifts of all.



Categories: Shelter Facts

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