When I think back on all the good work that Downtown Dog Rescue has done for more than twenty years, I’m really proud of the amazing team that I continue to work with, and the other non-profit organizations that we collaborate with to provide services. Too often, I think about what we’ve done in terms of the numbers. When we apply for grants, or appeal to donors for funding, it’s usually about how many services performed, how many dogs rescued, how many pets prevented from entering the shelter system, and the number of pets spayed and neutered.
DDR has rescued and adopted thousands of dogs, facilitated the spay and neuter of tens of thousands of cats and dogs, and prevented more than 14,000 pets from entering one shelter in only seven years. On paper, all of this looks impressive, the work that we have done. However, I measure success differently, much differently than I did when I started this organization. As a result of doing this type of work, and the pet owners and the dogs teaching me what I need to learn on a daily basis, I measure success by the relationships that we build one pet and one pet owner at a time.
Don’t think for a minute that I’m all “zen”, and everything in my world is unicorns and rainbows. It doesn’t take much for me to get caught in the cycle of putting too much emphasis on achieving a goal, a number that represents “a job well done”. As a people-pleaser in recovery, it’s a daily challenge to just be in the moment, not worrying about how everyone else feels, or is reacting to me. Just when I thought that I was doing super duper at being present, our monthly dog clinic with the SCVMA was an opportunity to stop, and examine what is truly important.
Due to COVID, our usual clinic locations, public parks still closed, the company that I work for, Modernica, agreed to generously allow the use of the five acre Modernica Factory campus. It’s amazing, we had so much space to line up more than 100 cars of pet owners, and volunteers. This is how we kept it safe for everyone. Pet owners were required to call our office and make an appointment. Each pet owner was given a reservation time, and we filled out all their paperwork before the day of the clinic. When they arrived, the paperwork was placed on the windshield, the pet owner and the pet remained in their car until they drove up to one of the vaccination stations, where a tech took the pet out of the car to be vaccinated, microchipped, dewormed, and flea and tick meds were applied, all free of charge. We’ve completed two drive thru clinics, and almost doubled the number of cats and dogs served from the first drive thru clinic.
Before each clinic, I say the serenity prayer in my mind, sometimes over and over, depending on how my day starts. With an intention of not being controlling, and being open to everyone being responsible for their part, and me not butting in, I did it. I felt compelled to get bossy about how the paperwork system was going down at the front gate, despite a group of well organized staff handling it. As the words flew out of my mouth, I thought, why am I saying this? Why am I acting this way?
Wonder why? Because, in my mind, I didn’t want to disappoint the volunteer veterinarians and techs. They were used to 250-330 dogs at each park event that we had organized for the past six years, but due to COVID and the clinic being a drive thru, 100+ reservations seemed like a lot of pets. There were lulls, when everyone volunteering didn’t have a whole lot to do, and in the moment, I felt like I didn’t plan this event well enough. I should have made more reservations, I should have had a back up plan. An old theme in my mind played out, I’, worried that I’ve let people down.
Then I heard a volunteer say, “Look who is here and wants to talk to you!” I walked up to the car, looking through the window, and there was Survivor, a very sweet dog from the South LA Shelter, and his Veteran. We had met almost one year ago to the day, at the Stand Down at the VA that counselor Lola and I worked at. He told me that he wanted to thank me, and that he was so happy that I remembered him. He reminded me that Lola and I had sat and listened to him discuss his love of dogs and how he felt that he could not afford to adopt a dog. I assured him that I really enjoyed listening to him that day at the Stand Down, since he was my favorite type of person, a real “dog person” who like me had been “dog crazy” since childhood.
Survivor needed boosters shots. It had been almost a year since counselor Amanda picked out this little dog for the Veteran, DDR paid the adoption fees, and has supported them whenever they needed help. The help is not always things or free services, sometimes it’s a caring person to talk to at our Pet Support Space office. When the Veteran’s mother died, he took her death hard, and relied on counselor Amanda for support. Something we all need in times of grief, a caring person who will listen.
As we said our goodbyes, and their car pulled ahead to the open vaccination station, I had “happy tears” in my eyes, and everything that was going on in my head was irrelevant. During our conversation, we connected. I was being in the moment, and it felt like time stood still for those several brief minutes. I was reminded that the connections with pet owners that I have made, relationships formed and nurtured, are what I remember most, and what is most meaningful to me.
However, I’m happy to report that we vaccinated at total of 104 pets (47 cats and 57 dogs) at our drive thru clinic, and our partner in these clinics, Spay4LA had an entire mobile clinic full of pets being sterilized, with a couple more clinics booked as a direct result of our Sunday clinic.
I used to believe that I was on a mission to solve a problem, pet overpopulation, or whatever it was back then. Somewhere over the years it became more about being the person who others can rely on for support, the one who is willing to teach someone how to achieve their goals, as they help me achieve mine. To be a caring person who believes that numbers don’t always add up to a solution, no matter how big those numbers are. In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Especially now, during this global pandemic, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level.
If this blog post has touched you, let met me know. As always I thank you for taking the time to read this post, and for making it possible for all of us at DDR, and especially for me, to be of service 365 days a year to pet owners who often have lost hope.