Aiken County Animal Advocates
THE VOICE OF PAWS
(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)
By Joya DiStefano
“The one thing about this job,” she began, “is that you can never get up thinking you are going to the same old job.”
Sandy Larsen is a senior vet tech at the Aiken County Animal Shelter.
She may arrive at the gate early in the morning and find a box full of kittens or puppies or a dog tied to the fence.
The gate is on heavily trafficked Wire Road, where the speed limit is 55 mph. Sometimes the box is empty, or the leash chewed in half. Maybe the temperature dipped into the 20s that night. This is how a workday may begin.
Sandy remembers when the shelter was built and meant to hold 100 animals.
The number impounded at the shelter this October was 467; the previous October was 485, and the October before that was 491.
In the last 10 years, only October 2007 saw the intake number under 400 at 362.
Otherwise, the average for Octobers is 450 animals, the last three years being the highest of four in 10 years.
Intake is much higher from April to August.
What does a veterinary technician do in this environment? Nearly everything, except bring the animals to the County Shelter.
If Sandy’s week starts on Monday, she is up at o’dark-thirty to come and get the been-here-too-long-pet-of-the-week and take it on television.
She has not missed a Monday in years. Her spot airs at 6 a.m.
“Sometimes I have even brought that box of abandoned puppies or kittens to show what some people will do.”
There is a wire gate separating the “5-day holds” from the adoptable animals, all sharing the same air, the same open drainage trenches, the same smells and sounds.
“We check the floor for kennel cough and diarrhea, and medicate accordingly,” said Sandy.
Next, the 5-day holds are reviewed so see who might be eligible to move up to the adoption floor on a space-available basis. These candidates will be checked for heartworm.
If positive, they are not eligible for adoption and will be euthanized if a rescue cannot be located who will take them.
If negative, they get wormed and shots and another chance at a good home.
The strays with mange, the cats with upper respiratory infections (URIs), the dogs disabled by age or injury find their final rest in the compassionate hands of a vet tech like Sandy.
The two county vet techs field calls from the foster families calling with health concerns for puppies or kittens in their care.
And before the county added a custodian position a year ago, they supervised the county inmates who work cleaning and feeding and dong the routine maintenance, if anything can be called routine in such an overcrowded, understaffed facility.
Three days a week, people who’ve adopted puppies and kittens bring their pets back to be spayed and neutered.
The vet techs assist the county vet with surgeries Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They order and maintain records on all medications, for the sick, surgery and those being fostered.
They do paperwork for intake, adoptions, transfers and disposal. They help volunteers keep the Petfinder website up to date. And for 6.5 hours a day the doors are open to the public.
The dog-walker volunteers arrive and want to know who got adopted since they were last there.
“What happened to Jake, or Millie, this one, or that one? They know all the dogs so well,” Sandy said with appreciation.
Things have changed in Sandy Larsen’s world since Friends of the Animal Shelter helped establish the volunteer, foster and transfer programs beginning in 2009.
Referring to the recent adoption special for November, “Back-in-Black really helped with adoptions,” Sandy said.
A lot has changed for a shelter staff that saw only 265 animals re-homed out of 5,717 impounded in FY04.
In FY13, 1,581 animals were either adopted or transferred out of 4,794 impounded. Or put another way, in 2004 less than 5 percent of the impounded animals were saved; last year it was 33 percent.
Tired after another long day in another busy week, Sandy turned to a particular heartbreak.
Hard to bear that people will abandon helpless pets, unwanted and unnecessary puppies and kittens, but worst of all for Sandy are those who sacrifice their elderly pets saying, “I don’t like this dog anymore.” “I just don’t want it,” because it can’t do what it once could, because it doesn’t suit their needs.
“We live in a world where everything is so disposable,” Sandy says sadly thinking that, if she retires, she may give one or two of these seniors a very loving home.
Aiken County and our animals are blessed to have public servants like Sandy Larsen.
A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS, Inc.