Recently our Customer Care team has had to contend with some very angry people. Sadly, this is common in animal welfare. People are very passionate about animals. Sometimes that passion produces stress, stress leads to raised voices and pretty soon our staff is being subjected to rants about everything from animal welfare investigations to the actions of animal control officers (neither of which we have any control over, by the way). Lately, the anger has been about something different; people are upset that we’re closed to animal visitations. Our commitment to appointment-only service has resulted in a vocal minority venting their frustrations on a group of individuals who are over-worked, under-staffed and who are some of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known. This has to stop.
In the pre-COVID world, members of the public could show up during our business hours and wander around visiting with animals that were available for adoption. We didn’t have a limit on the number of people that could come into the building and at times on evenings and weekends, it was shoulder-to-shoulder in every room. Obviously, that came to an abrupt end on on March 17th, 2020. That day the Kingston Humane Society and thousands of other organizations, closed their doors. We suspended adoptions, stopped taking owner surrenders and shelved stray drop-offs by members of the public. After about six weeks of review and re-tooling, we created a new, “contactless” business model that protected both the public and our staff. Adoptions, drop-offs and surrenders were all re-instated on an appointment-only basis. We introduced virtual meet and greets and other non-contact methodology to reduce the possibility of transmission and ensure the safety of everyone involved. It wasn’t ideal but after navigating a steep learning curve, we continued intakes and adoptions at a similar rate to pre-COVID levels. For the ensuing two years, we’ve maintained the same business model; finding hundreds of animals new, forever homes while maintaining protocols. Throughout that time, we’ve had discussions about re-opening but as one wave of COVID would dissipate, another would crash down and it just never felt safe. Two weeks after the province removed mask mandates, we had our first case of COVID among the staff. We’ve since had 8 more cases in rapid succession; resulting in a weekend closure of our customer care centre. Clearly an appointment-based system is still the most reasonable path. Unfortunately, despite press releases, social media notices, website postings and signage, more and more people are showing up at our door insisting that they should be allowed into the building to see the cats and dogs. When our staff explains the situation, these people go from mild disappointment to flat-out screaming and harassment in record time.
Our staff deals with more than you could ever imagine. Every single day, we see humanity’s darkest side and the effect it has on defenceless, innocent animals. We also see mountains of loss, pain and suffering. We grieve with the old man on a pension who can’t afford to euthanize his dying cat. We console the family that, through no fault of their own, has to surrender their family dog. We shed rivers of tears when a terminal diagnosis results in a final decision by our veterinary team to end days or weeks of suffering. After each heart-wrenching moment, the dedicated, professional and compassionate KHS team doesn’t give in, give up or lash out in anger. They simply move forward with steely determination to save, treat, care for and re-home the next animal…and the next animal….and the next animal.
So, when members of the public show up and start screaming about how COVID is over and we must not really care about the animals, I am dumbfounded. The lack of respect and empathy is stunning. I know that we’re all living with significant stress and uncertainty but nothing justifies this type of mistreatment. More than anyone, we hope that we’ll soon be able to fully open our doors and give the community a chance to cuddle a cat or pat a dog. However, until that time, I strongly encourage a compassionate, understanding approach to the KHS staff and to all essential workers. For more than two years, these women and men have displayed nothing but vigilance, compassion and an extraordinary level of patience. That alone, merits respect and above all, kindness.
Gord Hunter, Executive Director