As I sit down to write this blog post, I am very happy to be part of a team that loaded 35 cats and dogs onto the Spay4LA mobile clinic to be spayed and neutered this morning. My day did not start as planned as I overslept by an hour. I woke at 5:00 am thanks to Fender barking and wanting to go outside. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, rushing around and trying to do multiple things at once, I am at a place in my life where I can accept that this is what is happening now and all is well. I arrived at the clinic to see a line of cars parked down the street waiting for me to let them inside the gate. I have to admit, I felt a rush of anxiety seeing everyone waiting for me. I took a deep breath and remembered that all is well. Instead of feeling rushed and anxious, I was able to feel centered and greet the first pet owner waiting patiently to drive in with her cat (she listened to instructions and had him safe in a carrier). Then, it was on to the next car, truck, van, and so forth. The reality of the situation was that they were never waiting for “me”. The people in the line of cars were there because they could not afford to get their cats and dogs spayed or neutered.
As more families arrived and their pets checked in, it was clear to me that everyone was grateful for the free services DDR was providing. Some pet owners expressed how grateful they were for help from our counselors to obtain appointments. A few had no appointment but, amazingly, Spay4LA was able to accommodate all but one cat and one dog as there was no more space aboard the mobile clinic.
Most of the pet owners had been to DDR’s free drive-thru vaccination clinic last Sunday where we provided services to 138 pets. Today, some of those pet owners returned to get their pet sterilized. You might wonder, Why do they wait when there are so many free and low cost options to get pets spayed and neutered? While a percentage of our clients can go online using their phone or tablet to fill out applications, most do not own a computer or smart phone. The confusion of how to apply for a voucher, how to qualify, what a co-pay is, and not being able to prove they live in certain zip code, their ID was lost or stolen, their wages are paid in cash, or they do not have an income to document they are low income, are just some of the barriers to getting more pets spayed and neutered.
Today, we had a pet owner with two dogs who is part of the Project Room Key program. He and his dogs had to take two buses in the early morning hours to arrive at 6:00 am to get his male and female dogs sterilized. The challenge was that he had no appointment. He was supposed to get his dogs sterilized at a partner animal hospital. Our counselor had made an appointment and coordinated the logistics, but he could not deal with the requirements the hospital was enforcing due to COVID. When our counselor asked him what happened, he expressed anger towards the staff for making him wait and for not taking care of him the way he felt he should be taken care of.
In general, it has been difficult for him to use our services because he can be impatient, easily stressed out, and reactive if he is asked to wait or if he feels he is being disrespected. When I saw him sitting on the curb outside the gate waiting for the clinic to open, my first thought was, “Oh no, why is he here without an appointment?”, instead of “Cool, he made it with both dogs – how awesome!” I had to remind myself to remain in a place of service. Waving, I told him we would work him into the clinic and to please be patient while I spoke to Claudia, the RVT. Understanding the situation, two spaces were made for his dogs, taking into account that a lot of planning and effort on his part went into making it possible for the dogs to be here today. I was delighted to walk him and the dogs back to the mobile clinic, handing him off to the receptionists who took great care of him and his dogs. I was still standing near the gate when he walked out. He looked over at me and said, “I already miss them.” I smiled and thought about the first time I dropped off my puppies, Maya and Yuki, to be spayed and spend a night at Vanderhoof Veterinary Hospital back in 1999. Even though I knew they needed to be spayed, I will never forget the look on their little faces as they were taken into the back without me. I remember tears in my eyes as I drove back home. Just like our client and his two dogs, he also knew that he was “doing the right thing”, but he still felt a little sad walking away. I reassured him, telling him his dogs will be resting when he returns. Assured, he smiled and waved goodbye.
Yes, it is important to continue offering veterinary services for low income pet owners. That is the “providing services” part of the work – to offer services for the people and their pets. On the other hand, “being of service”, I do for me. It’s a great feeling when I have the opportunity to help people who love their pets, but face challenges in obtaining services for those pets. The feeling is impossible to put into words! Especially now during COVID, when everyone is encouraged to isolate and to keep their distance, being there for another pet owner, even something simple as a warm greeting of “Good morning, thank you for coming out to the clinic this morning,” contributes to my well-being, my trust that everything is exactly as it should be in the world, even when things do not make sense right now.
While I have always wanted to help people with their pets whenever possible, I have to admit (especially in the beginning of DDR), I wanted to help them only if they followed my rules. My thinking tended to be very black and white. There was a right way and there was a wrong way – nothing in between. Now I am grateful I can see the pluses and minuses and be okay with the outcome, even when something does not go exactly as planned. When I am participating in an event like our spay and neuter clinic this morning, and I approach it from a place of being of service, instead of just providing a service, that shift in attitude results in me being more present. I notice and appreciate the “small things”. I would be lying if I said that everything is always unicorns, rainbows, and sunshine – definitely not. But even when I feel like I want to argue, prove them I am right, get my point of view across, I am grateful that I can come back quickly to a place of “being of service”, which is the best place to be for my mental health.
As this post comes to an end, I look at my watch and it’s 10:40 am. Surgeries have been completed and pet owners will be picking up their cats and dogs post-surgery soon. In fact, our day will wrap up by 1:30 and all 35 pets will go back home, and won’t produce unwanted puppies and kittens.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Write to me about your experiences of service, and how being of service to others has impacted your life. Lori@downtowndogrescue.org
Your ongoing support and encouragement makes a difference!