By Kim Bromley
First recorded in the United Kingdom in 1893 (according to my AI), the idea that a busman, or a person who drives a bus to make a living, would use bus transport for their holiday was one of ironic amusement. I’ve been active in animal shelter life for thirty years, so naturally when I go on vacation – or holiday, as it’s known in Brit influenced parts of the world – I visit animal shelters. Needless to say, I’m fun to travel with [eye roll emoji here].
I’ve seen shelters of all stripes, large and well funded, small and struggling in many American states and appreciated the work of street volunteers in foreign countries. I once side-lined a friend for half a day’s adventures on the island of Maui, Hawaii because we drove past a blue and white sign with an arrow reading “Animal Shelter.” On another occasion, I managed to drag my then 90 year old father to the nearest animal shelter near Kerman, California (if memory serves) when we found a stray German Shepard by the side of the highway on our way home from Yosemite. Once in Seville, Spain my husband and I walked through a plaza sporting very high end posters advertising a national adoption campaign for shelter pets. A large event was advertised for a location a short train ride away. Before I could speak, my husband gave me the “no way” face. But I’m sure he thought about it. I know I did.
Why do I do this? It’s not like I don’t get a huge dose of shelter work when I’m home. I spend at least 3 hours of every week on site at Marin Humane, and more hours writing animal profiles, blogs and working on other written materials. Over the years, we’ve fostered at least 100 dogs and cats and I’ve helped out at many different fund raising events, sometimes hands-on with our most adorable adoption pets. Is that not enough?
I think the answer lies in my innate curiosity and my longing for connection. I’m genuinely curious about how other people and organizations do things. (It’s why I like to travel. What do other people eat? What fabrics do they use in their clothing? Modes of transport? Views about “other people” and on it goes.) Seeing other shelters is a window into the community I’m visiting vis a vis their views on animal welfare; how much they can afford to provide quality care for lost and injured animals and other questions that Marin Humane has grappled with over the years.
Recently, Dave and I vacationed on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. By no means our first Kauai rodeo. Over the 35 years we’ve been together, Kauai is the island we’ve visited the most and love the best. We remember when the current Kauai Humane Society was built (previously a smaller, grittier location in Lihui) just off the main road on the way to Poipu (our favorite Kauai place to hang). It was in the late 1990s when I first saw the construction. By the next visit an exceptionally nice facility was online and I made Dave visit it with me. Today, Kauai Humane boasts an extremely robust volunteer program and hosts many events on the island. They do wonderful work and have provided a model for many shelters across the country.
A now popular practice at many shelters located in vacation destinations is that of allowing visitors a chance to take a dog out for the day. This gives the visitor a calming dog “fix” and the dog a chance to get out of the shelter environment and live a little! It’s a win/win, which is why it has caught on in a variety of places. I didn’t sign up for this particular treat (the process is a bit protracted, as it should be to insure the dog’s welfare), but I can see its allure. Nevertheless, I did insist on a visit since we were “on this road anyway…” on our way from Hanapepe to Poipu. [Those familiar with these locations are saying, “You could’ve just turned right to get back to Poipu. I know, I know. Don’t tell Dave.]
Despite few cars in the parking lot on a weekday afternoon, the shelter staff was busy answering questions and letting volunteers in and out of the kennels. The merch was especially cool and I came very close to purchasing a t-shirt as their logo is kind of fabulous. (I remembered I don’t really wear t-shirts that much, so I came to my senses.) But we dropped a $20 bill in their donation box and went outside to enjoy the property, which is lush and vast.
Kauai is graced with green, green lawns that don’t require sprinkler systems to keep them so. The Humane Society provides the public with a dog park as well as areas for the volunteers to walk (and run) the shelter dogs. It really does look like paradise. Still, if you’re a dog, there’s no place like a real home.
Many places on earth do not have the funding or the level of interest in animal welfare that American and European communities engage in. But that doesn’t mean that the people who live in these places are any less involved in the issues facing the domestic pets that live on the streets in their communities. I’ve seen many local efforts in Mexico and Egypt, that despite a lack of resources, are heartening. Even when there is no place to house lost and stray pets organizers provide on the street care. Veterinarians organize to provide pro-bono street care in a “Veterinarians without Borders” sort of coalition. Local residents provide food and much needed water. In Egypt, groups form around temple sites to provide makeshift shelter for dogs; containers of water magically appear daily along with food and scraps. What we would call “strays” are known as “Temple Dogs and Cats.” These animals, of course, attract the attention and sympathy of tourists and as a result generate healthy donations to the temples. They definitely earn their keep.
As I finish this blog I happen to be visiting Huntington Beach, California – a sort of post holiday time with kids, grandkids and other family. Southern California is well resourced for shelters and rescue groups. When I found out the Orange County Humane Society is a mile away from our AirBnb…well, how could I not pay a visit? The facility is one of many privately funded rescue and adoption organizations located in a well-heeled (pun intended) beach community. This organization in particular occupies a small space compared to what we’re used to at Marin Humane, but judging from the donations piled up and the website, I could see there is much to be learned from economy of space.
After a morning of checking out websites, Orange County Humane Society vs Orange County Animal Services, etc we took our shelter alums, Claude and Lulu to the nearby Huntington Beach Dog Beach for a beautiful free range stroll. I think I’ve found a new area of vacation must dos. [wink emoji].