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Day in the Life: Animal Care Associates

Last year, we provided care to more than 21,000 homeless pets including cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets and rabbits … just to name a few.

How can we care for all of those animals? More importantly who is responsible for this crucial work? The answer to both questions is the Dumb Friends League Animal Care team.

Bright and early

It’s 5:30 a.m. and dozens of animals are waiting for breakfast. This is how the day begins for Terre Buckley, Animal Care Associate at the Dumb Friends League.

With a bright smile on her face and busy day ahead of her, Terre gets moving. (Speaking of moving, we’ll update you on how many steps she logs today!)

Each member of the team is assigned a zone. Today we are in zone 3, which includes six different areas of the shelter that house cats and dogs. These areas have animals who are available for adoption, as well as those who are being treated for various health issues, or coming in or out of foster homes.

Leigh Ann, another Animal Care Associate, is also working in this zone, so she and Terre split up some duties. The two decide who’s doing what and get right to work.

The most important meal of the day

We check out the feed sheets to see if any dogs are on a special diet or have other food-related notes. (Dog will only eat dry food, for example.)

We walk through the two dog areas to check on the pups before we start preparing breakfast.

Have you ever prepared food for more than two dozen dogs at one time? It’s pretty safe to say that most of us have not, but Terre’s a pro at it. For the majority of the dogs, breakfast is a blend of canned food, water and dry food all mixed up in a big stock pot. The pups with special diets get their meals made individually. (Fun fact: Did you know that Hill’s Pet Nutrition provides food for all cats and dogs in our shelters?)

“It can be a lot to keep track of,” Terre says while stirring the large pot filled with dog food. “It’s like working in a hospital and having patients with special diet needs.”

The prepared food is loaded onto to a cart along with serving bowls and we head over to start feeding the dogs.

As we enter the first kennel area, we are greeted by a chorus of enthusiastic barking from dogs of all sizes and ages. Within mere minutes, the chorus is silent as the pups enjoy breakfast.

Each dog is greeted with a friendly “good morning” and a request to “sit” before receiving the morning meal. Some oblige while others are either too excited to do so, or haven’t learned the command. Terre says, “I try to do what I can to help with their manners!”

Now that everyone has a full belly, it’s time to clean kennels. Leigh Ann will start cleaning the dog kennels and Terre gets to work on the cat kennels.

Herding Cats

You’ve heard people use the phrase that something is “like herding cats,” right? Well, our animal care team literally does this every single day.

The section of the shelter we are in this morning houses cats that need a little extra care—whether they are recovering from surgery or have special medical needs. This means, we need to follow PPE (personal protective equipment) guidelines. This is crucial to ensure all animals—and people—in the shelter remain healthy. Each kennel area has a sign outside that outlines which protective equipment is required.

Our first stop requires a yellow gown, gloves and booties. We gown up, head in and are greeted by the enthusiastic meows of five cats.

To clean the cats’ temporary digs, Terre wipes down the kennels, changes litterboxes, gives fresh water and dry food and provides them with a soft towel or blanket for bedding, all while the cats remain inside of their kennels. (This is the part where they literally herd cats!)

She pays close attention to each cat’s body language and behavior to ensure she’s moving at the animal’s pace while she works. “I always tell people to go slow when working with the cats, it helps reduce their stress and keeps them calmer.”
Terre makes time to give the cats individual attention and affection—if they want it—along the way.

After the residents are cared for, Terre sterilizes a kennel that’s been vacated and cleans the floor of the room.

We follow the same process through a few more rooms before we get to our last assigned cat area. The cats housed here are recovering from or being treated for ringworm. (Quick note: Ringworm is not a worm at all, it’s a fungal infection that spreads easily between animals and is zoonotic, which means people can get it too. We treat it with a combination of topical and oral therapies. Treatment often takes about six weeks to complete.)

Bath time

We put on the required PPE and head into the room. Inside are four cats, three of which need one last topical treatment—this means, we need to give baths to two kittens and one adult cat!

We first clean the kennel of the one cat not receiving a bath—she’s off the hook today, but needs a few more treatments before she’s clear and can become available for adoption.

Terre mixes the required treatment with some warm water to make the process as comfortable as possible for her four-legged patients. “The warm water seems to calm them down.”

First up is Raul, a 3-year-old cat with a white coat and beautiful green eyes. He’s incredibly friendly and enjoys chin scratches before he’s carefully picked up and taken to the sink for his bath. “We have to make sure we saturate all the way down to the skin and wash him everywhere,” Terre says as she gently cleans the now soaking wet kitty.

When the bath is over, Raul is wrapped up in a cozy towel and placed in a carrier waiting outside the room. From there he will be taken to another area of the shelter and become available for adoption.

The two kittens receive their baths, then head to surgery to be neutered before becoming available for adoption.

Every day is different

Today, Terre receives an unusual assignment. A dog is in a quarantine area, has been deemed disease-free and needs to be moved to a different area. But first, she needs a bath.

Enter, Ponder—a 5-month-old Border collie mix. She’s a beautiful puppy who our behavior team has been working with due to her lack of leash time and fear. We would normally walk a 25-pound dog when moving to a different area of the shelter, but Ponder won’t have it. Terre carries her down the hall into the grooming room.

Ponder reveals herself to be quite scared of the basin used to bathe animals. So, Terre improvises. She fills a bucket of water with soap, gathers towels and sits on the floor with the frightened young dog.

Terre speaks gently and moves slowly as she gives Ponder a “sponge bath” of sorts. The dog, while still timid, shows signs that she’s beginning to trust Terre. She slowly relaxes and allows Terre to wash her.

But wait, there’s more

So far, we have fed animals, cleaned kennels, changed litterboxes, bathed both cats and a dog, moved animals and cleaned floors. And we aren’t even close to being done.

Terre regularly checks her assigned areas in case anyone has an accident or makes a mess with their water dish to ensure the shelter stays spic and span all day long. “This is one of my favorite parts of the day, I get a little extra time to talk to and interact with the animals.”

After quick a walk-through of our zone and a few clean-ups along the way, we head into cage wash. We spray used cages with sanitizer and leave them to soak.

Next, we head over to another cat room that is scheduled for a deep clean. Each area is deep cleaned once a week.

The individual cat kennels have already been cleaned, so now it’s time to make sure the room—from top to bottom—is thoroughly sanitized. The cat kennels, which are large banks with wheels, are rolled out of the way so Terre can clean under, behind and on top. “The best compliment is when someone walks into the shelter and says, ‘it smells so clean in here!’,” Terre says as she wipes down the walls and doors, cleans the floors and shines up the stainless-steel surfaces.

At this point in the day, we have accumulated 10,000 steps—and it’s not even noon!

We do more walk-throughs in our zone, restock supplies in the rooms we cleaned, finish cleaning the kennels that needed to be sanitized, make sure the loading dock is staying clean, take out trash and spend a little more time in cage wash.

Take a deep breath

A Dumb Friends League Animal Care Associate will likely interact with every animal in the shelter throughout the week. Knowing that they played a crucial role in each pet’s journey to a new, loving home is what makes the work they do so rewarding.

So, next time you come to one of our shelters and you see happy pets, sitting in clean kennels with full water and food bowls, take a deep breath (notice it doesn’t smell) and think about the work our incredible Animal Care Associates do each day for homeless pets!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t let you know that Terre logged 14,000 steps by the end of her shift—she said it would have been more if she didn’t have to attend an hour-long meeting that day!

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