April 6th, 2022
By Devon Krusko, Field Services and Community Programs Manager
My career in animal welfare began with a job in private practice veterinary medicine. I quickly learned who the “good” and “bad” owners were, and this culture carried into my volunteer work with a local rescue group. Tasked with finding the “best forever” home, I took my job seriously. I looked for reasons to say no instead of yes. I surveyed family homes with an eye built for scrutiny, and was praised for keeping pets out of terrible situations. Adopters were even denied based on what brand of dog food they chose.
I rarely approved an application, which meant I’d done a good job – but at what? Denying pets and people companionship and love? Holding up foster homes when there were other shelter pets in need? Judging a home setting simply because it was different from mine? What privilege I came from. In reality, I’d often done a disservice to animals in need and to families who would have provided a loving home – to a spayed/neutered and vaccinated animal – because the truth is that those homes I denied simply got an animal elsewhere, while foster homes stayed full and other pets in need couldn’t be helped.
As my career path expanded, I was humbled to attend national conferences, trainings, and learn and grow from mentorships. I realized I had it all wrong: The desire for animal companionship and love is not correlated to economic status. My heart opened to supporting people and pets in any and all ways that I could, and I have been lucky to spend more than 10 years doing so.
In the years since I joined RedRover, our RedRover Responders Community Programs work has evolved and expanded. When we were given the opportunity to help fund and build safe enclosures for dogs who live outside, I jumped on it. Keep pets with the people who love them? Yes, please! Improve quality of life and build relationships with the community? I’m here for it!
Bennettsville, South Carolina, is a small, rural community with limited resources for both pets and people. There are cultural differences, a gap in information, and varying thoughts and beliefs surrounding animal welfare. Many families were raised with the notion that dogs, particularly larger ones, belong outside; some live in tiny homes with multiple people and multiple dogs who don’t get along; some have landlords who don’t allow dogs inside; others keep dogs for protection; and for many, a chain is the most affordable way to keep their pet safe from harm outside. In my work with the Humane Society of Marlboro County’s (HSMC) Unchain Marlboro program, one thing became clear: Though life for these pets may look different than my home or yours, what is very much present at every family’s home we visited is love– an abundance of it.
When we arrive on-site at a family’s home in Marlboro County, we’re often greeted by everyone in the family – dogs and cats included! Folks tell us they are so grateful we’ve come, that they’ve been waiting for this day, and that they can’t believe how lucky they are to receive this support. Sometimes, tears are shed, and then we get to work meeting the dogs and prepping the area for their new enclosure. We install large enclosures, typically 10×20, with a chicken wire perimeter for safety, a new dog house, straw for insulation, toys, and new water and food bowls. If there are multiple dogs in the household or on the property we offer to introduce them and teach the family about dog behavior and play styles, and often this leads to a larger space that allows the dogs to socialize together.
I can tell you from experience that the majority of people who are struggling financially or experiencing poverty or are unhoused very much value and need their relationships with their animals. They are often doing anything they can to ensure their pets are cared for and fed, because one’s capacity for unconditional love is not determined by financial circumstance.
RedRover and our partners are committed to supporting the human-animal bond and building compassion and empathy in local communities. We look forward to our next opportunity to serve the Marlboro County community, where these animals are loved and valued members of the family.