This article is part of Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Kent County youth in partnership with Rapid Growth staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, Ry Johnson addresses common misconceptions and the positive impact of no-kill animal shelters.
As an animal lover, I have always been fascinated by the work of animal shelters. Specifically, the Humane Society of West Michigan (HSWM)
, because that is my local animal shelter. These organizations provide a vital service by taking in animals in need and offering them a safe and loving environment until they can be adopted into their forever homes.
While drawing attention to the topic of adoption and fostering, it is also important that we look at and acknowledge the vital role that volunteers and staff play in the process and address the common misconceptions about animal shelters and how we can best support their mission moving into the future.
The HSWM is a no-kill shelter
that takes in dogs, cats, reptiles and small animals of many kinds. A non-kill shelter is a shelter that will not euthanize animals to make space for more animals, instead, they will either get the animals out to foster as fast as possible or sometimes even put two animals together who are social.
Not all shelters are non-kill shelters, as some will euthanize animals to make space
, often leading to the newer animals being the ones most likely being euthanized in an endless cycle. This is why it is important to make sure to check if your local shelter is a non-kill shelter.
At HSWM, the focus is on providing animals with a safe and comfortable environment until their forever family adopts them. While in their care, the team at the Humane Society will always give these animals the necessary medical care, including spaying, neutering and all vaccines.
Being prepared for anything
When talking to Aurora Lewis, lead foster organizer at the HSWM, about the animals that have been abandoned at the shelter, she shared a story about the 50-pound tortoise that was dropped off.
The shelter did not have the space to house this tortoise, so they immediately sent out a plea to some of their donors right away. Almost immediately, they had someone come forward willing to foster the tortoise, until she could be adopted.
“When an animal arrives and our shelter doesn't have the necessary supplies for them, we have never once not had someone who was willing to donate what was needed,” says Lewis.
Courtesy of Colin Holohan
This just shows how much the community wants to support their local shelters, which is so important.
The journey of an animal in a humane shelter begins with a rescue. The animal may be found wandering the streets, surrendered by its owner or rescued from a hoarding situation, which recently happened at HSWM when 21 hoarded cats came to the shelter.
“We definitely didn't have enough space — we worked as a team to get them their vaccines, or whatever medical attention they need, then [sent] the cats we [didn’t] have room for to foster families,” Lewis says.
Once the animal is in the care of the shelter, it undergoes an intake process. This process includes a medical evaluation, vaccinations and spaying or neutering by the vet technicians on-site. The animal is also given a temperament test to determine its behavior around people and other animals.
Courtesy of Colin Holohan
HSWM will oftentimes have this animal go to a foster home to see its personality a little better, as the shelter can cause stress for an animal. This information is used to match the animal with a suitable adoptive family.
“We will usually send shy kitties to foster homes to help socialize them before putting them up on the adoption website,”says Lewis.
Volunteers and staff are the backbone of HSWM. They provide the animals with love, care and attention while they are waiting for their forever homes. Volunteers may help with feeding, cleaning and socializing the animals, or even preparing boxes to be sent with foster animals. They may also assist with adoption events and fundraising efforts.
Staff members include veterinarians, veterinary technicians and administrative personnel. They provide medical care, behavior assessments and administrative support to ensure the smooth operation of the shelter.
Courtesy of Colin Holohan
The truth about animal shelters
There are many misconceptions about almost all animal shelters that can deter people from adopting or supporting them.
One common myth is that shelter animals are all sick or have behavior problems. In reality, many shelter animals are healthy and well-behaved and just need a loving home.
Another misconception is that shelter animals are all mixed breeds. While it is true that many shelter animals are mixed breeds, there are also purebred animals available for adoption.
Finally, some people believe that animal shelters are dirty and overcrowded. While some shelters may be in need of funding and resources, many are clean and well-maintained.
The HSWM is a nonprofit organization. They are one of a few lucky shelters to have amazing and kind donors who are willing to help the shelter stay funded and functional. These are just some of the many myths and misconceptions about animal shelters, but with research, one can be fully-informed before making a decision to adopt or foster an animal.
There are many ways that you can support your local animal shelter. One way is to donate money or supplies. Lewis shares some of the most needed items include food, blankets, toys, treats, pet beds and food and water bowls.
“You would be surprised how fast we go through food; we are ordering more almost everyday," says Lewis. "We also try to send the animals to their forever home with a blanket that was in their kennel with them so that they will have something of comfort, which means always sending off blankets, so if you're wondering about what you could donate, it could be as simple as an old blanket.”
Courtesy of Colin Holohan
You can also volunteer your time by helping with animal care, adoption events or fundraising efforts. Another way to support your local animal shelter is to foster an animal or even adopting.
By fostering, you are giving this animal a loving home for a short amount of time before they can be adopted.
By adopting a pet, you not only provide a loving home for an animal in need, but you also free up space in the shelter for another animal —, and you might get an extra cuddle buddy!
Finally, you can help spread the word about the important work of animal shelters by sharing their mission and success stories on social media or in person with friends or family.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working with animal shelters is seeing the animals find their forever homes. There are countless success stories of animals who were once in need but now thrive in loving homes, like the story of Angie.
“When Angie entered our care, this poor kitty was scared,” HSWM posted on its website
. “She had lost the only owner she had ever known and had nowhere to go. When her owner passed away, unfortunately, no family member was able to take her in. At just three and a half years old, Angie was a sweet cat, but was confused and closed off when she first arrived. She had been with the same owner her whole life. It didn’t take long for the paw-some staff here to realize she needed some quiet attention to help her adjust and feel more comfortable."
Often, HSWM staff would be found giving Angie extra gentle pets, chin scratches, and within days, she opened up and started to show her personality. Once Angie was feeling more herself, she quickly found her permanent home.
Animal shelters play a vital role in providing care and shelter for animals in need. By supporting your local animal shelter through donations, volunteering, fostering and adoption, you can help ensure that these organizations can continue their important work. Remember, every animal deserves a second chance at a happy and healthy life, and it is up to us to make that happen.
If you are interested in supporting your local animal shelter, visit their website, give them a call or email them to see how you can help. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals in need.
To learn more about Rapid Growth's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here. This series is made possible via underwriting sponsorships from the Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation, and Kent ISD.
Meet Ry Johnson, they are 14 years old and a student at North Park Montessori. Ry has always been passionate about the lives and welfare of animals in shelters. They have fostered multiple animals of their own and plan on continuing that journey along with spreading information and exterminating rumors about these animals in need.