On Friday I spent the day in the slammer. You read that correctly. I was locked up in the Big House – the Big Puppy House.
I wasn’t exactly sure that I signed up for when the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia reached out to me asking if I’d be willing to be locked up for an entire day as part of their third annual Adoption Angel Lock In.
Since I have been volunteering at HSNEGA for the past several months (I photograph all the dogs up for adoption to help boost their online exposure) I was excited for the opportunity to give back a little more to these wonderful dogs.
It meant that I would take Friday off. It meant getting up early and making a 45 minute drive to the humane society in Gainesville. It meant being locked in a pen with one dog looking for his forever home for an entire day. It meant possibly being peed on, licked on and shed on. It meant working tirelessly to raise money through social media so that HSNEGA could raise $65,000 to help every dog in the shelter and many more dogs coming into the shelter to have $0 adoption fees.
I woke up early Friday morning with excitement. Even though I was exhausted I couldn’t wait to get to the shelter to meet my penmate for the day and do everything I could to raise my $250 goal.
Down at the end of the first run of pens was a little Chihuahua mix named Mario who loved to sing the blues. The little one-year old black and brown pup with ears bigger than his head and soft brown eyes looked up at me as I entered his pen.
“It looks like we’re cellmates today, Mario” I said as he jumped up excitedly.
At first it took some time to get used to sitting in a pen. I was posting photos and videos of Mario on social media and raising money for his adoption fees to be paid off, but Mario was beside himself.
Dogs would walk by to go outside and he would bark and bark and bark.
A volunteer or a family would walk by and he would bark and bark and bark.
There was no comfort for Mario for the first two hours of our day. He ran back and forth around pen 12, exhausting himself but finding no relief with sleep.
As I watched Mario frantically prancing around the pen, I comforted him until he felt relaxed enough to sit on my lap. His bursts of calmness lasted mere minutes because once he heard another dog barking, another pitter patter of feet in front of his pen, he was on alert again.
I thought sitting in a pen with a dog would be an easy task. Realistically it’s not hard. You sit with him, pet him, play with him, fundraise from your phone and keep busy so you forget how boring it is to be stuck within the same four walls.
But watching Mario exhaust himself and watching him never get comfortable enough to take a nap or finish eating his food was a loud wakeup call. This is Mario’s life all day every day. It’s all of these wonderful dogs’ lives all day every day until they find a home.
There’s no Netflix or Facebook to occupy their time. There’s not someone there to play with them for hours and hours. If they’re lucky, these dogs will get a few minutes outside to go to the bathroom and maybe get a walk and a few minutes of playtime.
Still, even with the wonderful staff and numerous volunteers at HSNEGA, when the shelter is full with 30 plus dogs they can only get so much time out of their pens. They’ll spend 22 to 23 hours in their pens alone every single day until they are adopted.
My heart hurt for all of the dogs that are stuck in shelter. It’s one thing to see their pictures on Facebook. It’s another to be sitting in the pen with them and getting a taste of what it’s like to walk in their paws.
It’s lonely. It’s loud with crying dogs echoing around the room. It’s no way for a dog to live his life.
Thanks to the efforts of the shelter, the volunteers and the penmates, HSNEGA raised $59,000 of their $65,000 goal by the end of Friday night. And thanks to my friends and family who donated, I raised $500 – double my original goal.
It means that Mario and all of his friends at the humane society have $0 adoption fees and will be able to go to their forever homes sooner.
Overall I spent six hours locked in the pen with Mario. I had the luxury of getting out of the pen to use the restroom, to grab lunch, to walk around the other pens to say hello to all of the dogs. Mario didn’t have that luxury.
When I left to grab lunch I saw his eyes grow sad and it pained me to leave him. When I returned his eyes lit up and his tail wagged hard enough to start a gentle breeze.
For one day he had a friend to stay with him, to chase away the loneliness and to pet him as he sat on a nice warm lap. It may not have been much for me to give, but the look in his eyes reassured me that just being there sitting in a pen with him made a difference.
On Sunday, Mario was adopted by a lovely couple who had fallen in love with my cute little cellmate. Over the span of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 27 animals at the humane society found their forever homes.
But there are still plenty of dogs, puppies, kittens and
cats looking for their forever homes at HSNEGA. If you are looking for your
next family member, come to the humane society at 845 W Ridge Road. You’ll be
glad you did.
Jessica Brown is a reporter for the Dawson County News.