I buried my face into the fur on his giant head for what felt like an hour. It was probably less than 30 seconds but in those 30 seconds I travelled back through every one of the 113 days that Riggs spent here at the Kingston Humane Society. From that initial introduction to a trembling, terrified soul, through all the recovery milestones, to my first goodbye as he left for foster, and the final farewell as we prepared him for his forever home. For an instant, I considered calling everything off. The absence of those baleful eyes and his lumbering gait was just too much to accept. I needed to find a way to keep him with me; to fit him into my life despite all the obstacles. It was a momentary impulse and one that so many of my colleagues experience each and every day. In the end, we know we’ve made the right decision, as I did with Riggs and his new family, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
If you don’t work in animal welfare, it might be hard to imagine that a bond so strong could develop in such a short period of time. However, when you consider that so often, their unconditional trust has been shattered by abuse and neglect and that they depend on us for their very survival, you can begin to understand why that connection is so powerful and deep.
Each year, we care for between 1500 and 2000 animals. The average length of stay is 16 days in the building; 56 days if you include foster care. Our goal with each and every one of those animals is to treat them, heal them, show them love and compassion and find them a forever home. While we’re doing all of that, we fall in love.
We fall in love with the kitten that came to us with two cloudy eyes and the prospect of total blindness and left with regained sight and a long, happy future with a loving family. We fall in love with the dog that arrived needing a leg amputation but was wagging his tail right after surgery and was happily hobbling around within 48 hours. We even fall in love with the ferocious, feral cat who tried to mangle anyone that approached her cage but who came out of her shell in the office and was adopted by a widower who couldn’t ask for a more loving companion.
In each of these situations and in hundreds more, our ward attendants, vet techs, customer care team and office administrators give unconditional love and care and then smile through the tears as we say goodbye.
So it was, on April 1st when Riggs came bounding down out of his foster volunteer’s car into the parking lot. I wanted to rush over and give him a big hug, but I knew he would be a bit overwhelmed. Instead I let the foster family and the new forever family chat and all of us went inside to finalize the adoption. Part of that process includes a quick exit exam to check his vitals, get his weight and to make sure we haven’t missed anything in terms of his health. Most times, our vet techs come up and take the animal back to our treatment room but I volunteered to escort Riggs back. I opened the door to the admin side of the building with Riggs on his leash. It was a familiar scene and one which the two of us had re-enacted several times a day for more than three months. He didn’t hesitate as we walked through. He headed right for my office – his home from November of 2022 to mid-March of 2023. That was my chance. I sat in my chair as he looked up at me and took his big head in my hands. “I’ll miss you buddy but Anne and Cory and the girls will give you a great home.”
As he had so many times, for so many days, he let me lean into furry head one last time. When the impulsive wave of regret had subsided, I walked him back to treatment. Along the way he got pats from all the ward attendants who cared for him, the vet techs who oversaw his treatment and the customer care team who made sure to find him the perfect home.
Whether it’s for 16 days or 56 days, or three months, we smile through the tears when we say goodbye to Riggs or Pajé or Kia or Paddington. We do this because we know that we’ve played a critical role in the journey of every single animal entrusted to our care. That willingness to accept the emotional toll of a thousand goodbyes is another in a long list of reasons why I’m proud to work alongside the committed and compassionate staff of the Kingston Humane Society.
From all of us to Riggs and every other animal we’ve said goodbye to; we miss you, we love you and we couldn’t be happier for you.