52 Days… What Will Happen?
52 days… I keep telling myself that we just really have to worry for 52 more days. Can the 53rd day be a new beginning? Do we get to wipe the slate clean and start anew? Can we forget the past years and will we be forgiven our trespasses and our mistakes? The real answer is no. There is no forgiveness for what has occurred and we can’t get back the time and the countless lives we have lost. This story is still developing but here is what I do know.
Today while I was at work, I received an instant message from a fellow volunteer for Halfway Home Pet Adoptions (further referred to as HWH). Her message was distraught and said that a volunteer showed up to walk the dogs today and she was turned away and advised that HWH would no longer be utilizing volunteers for walking the dogs and she needed to return home. I couldn’t believe what she was saying but moments later, my email, Facebook account and cell phone were inundated with frantic messages. Us volunteers, we were being turned away from donating our time to make a difference? Our help that we offer so freely was being rejected? Soon, there was an “official statement” from HWH which states:
Then what followed was an article that the Kansas City Star published today. You can read that article at http://www.kansascity.com/2011/03/09/2711223/kc-seeks-change-at-animal-shelter.html and I definitely recommend that you do so you know what the hell I am talking about. Once that article hit, it was on Facebook posts everywhere with messages such as ” Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Woo hoo! Finally!”, “I am loving this news :o)”, “Steck has always been the “nightmare” vet.”, “EXCITING NEWS! The future looks positive for Halfway Home!” and countless other posts. You know what we didn’t hear? “Steckelberg is being wrongfully accused.” or “Halfway Home is a wonderful place that gives dogs respectable treatment.” or even a “This is terrible news.” No one is willing to step in and defend Dr. Richard Wayne Stekelberg or how he has run Halfway Home Pet Adoptions.
Later in the day an article by The Pitch was uploaded and started circulating Facebook and another frenzy began. You can read this article at http://blogs.pitch.com/plog/2011/03/animal_shelter.php#more. This was very well written and gave many details that were left out of the Kansas City Star’s article. What’s more, The Pitch gave a link to the actual complaint filed by James C. Bowers, Attorney at Law on January 18th, 2011 which was addressed to Councilwoman Cindy Circo. I will warn you that this report is very disturbing and can be difficult to read and will be impossible to forget. The document can be found at http://media.pitch.com/6074180.0.pdf .
After reading (and you better have) the information provided on those three web pages I hope that you can better understand the situation that all of Kansas City, Missouri finds themselves involved in. It’s your responsibility to know what is happening in your city and what happens with your tax money. Learn the demise of great animals that just weren’t cared for in the capacity that should be available to them, especially from a veterinarian. Especially from a veterinarian that RUNS a facility where a cruel death happens. You need to know what could possibly happen to your precious “Bingo” or cuddly “Lucky” if left in the hands of a high-kill shelter with management that acts as if they could care less about the welfare of your family (because we all know that’s what pets really are). It’s went on this long because KANSAS CITY did nothing. Thankfully, a handful of people risked it all to attempt to make a difference and I hope to hell that they can. A battle has been won, some troops have retreated but the General on the other side has yet to wave his white flag and admit defeat. There is still a long war ahead of us and it will take many men to win it. Unfortunately, lives will still be lost in the process.
52 days… do you think we can unsee what has been seen? I know that I personally can not forget. I started in this late in the game and have only been actively volunteering at Halfway Home since January of 2010. It all started with a little pitbull named “Ginseng”. A dog that I saw posted as “Out of Time” on a radio personalities Facebook page. The same dog that made me lose my sanity in this world of animal rescue. See, I took little Ginseng home that day and saved her life. I nursed her through terrible kennel cough that made me think at times that I would lose her. Days turned into weeks of listening to coughing all night and numerous trips to CVS to buy Sugar-free Robitussin to help ease her through. Have you ever cleaned up weeks and weeks of snot from your floors, clothes, furniture and children’s faces? While I know that kennel cough can’t fully be prevented, I do know that she should have been treated before she was so ill.
When I first tried to volunteer at HWH, it was completely overwhelming. It was really hard to convince myself that I could step foot in the shelter when I knew what my response was to the death of animals in cartoons was. You cried when Harry died in Armageddon? Well, I just about die when I watch Balto. A freaking Disney movie. That first day at the shelter was rough. No one was really around to show me the ropes and a few people tried to help me but basically I roamed around like a hippie at Woodstock. Dazed and confused and with a major high from all the fumes I’d been taking in all day. The smell was atrocious, the thing that nightmares are made on. If I were to describe it, I would have to say it’s urine, feces, wet dog, blood, death and despair without the slightest hint of cleaning solvents. Just from standing in the doorway, I begged to be bathed in hand sanitizer but all of my attempts at using the little dispensers were epic fails because they were all empty. How can you prevent disease if you don’t have readily available sanitizer? Why do you have to hunt down a little bottle haphazardly balanced on a counter when there are dispensers mounted all around? In over a year, I never once found anything in those dispensers and like an idiot, I still tried.
The dogs were kept in cages, sometimes 2 to a cage, their own personal hell. Cages void of necessities like food and water or a comforting blanket or dog bed but most cages all had an overabundance of feces, urine, vomit or blood. Isn’t that a little backwards? A walk down the aisles would find dogs so sick they couldn’t even get up and out of their own stool, cages that clearly had a furry little creature in it but no sign of a water bowl and heads that would slowly raise just a few inches, waiting to see if food might come from me.
Over that year, I watched how staff dealt with people turning over dogs or with potential adopters. People were treated like idiots or even worse, ignored. I would watch someone struggling with signing over their dog, people that would just take a little encouragement and education to keep their pets. People needed resources that they were not provided with, ever. The front desk was a nightmare with lines through the office and slow service. Why were there not separate places for specific issues? Licensing, here. Adoptions, here. Vet assistance, here.
Here are excerpts from some emails or messages that I received in regards to HWH:
“They did. I adopted a black lab. Would have taken two but they wouldnt let me. Honestly, I will never deal with that facility again. Noone had any idea who I was when I came in( I had spoken with Natasha, and you, as well as another lady on the phone). I really felt it to be very disorganized, and quite frankly the coordinator was rude as all get out. She at one point told me I couldnt adopt without a fenced in yard..I informed her that is ridiculous on 22 acres. Although our acreage is fenced, they could get out if they wanted to. I had to make 2 different trips down there, for a total of 240 miles for me to spend 135 to get a dog that other people on craigslist were begging me to take in.And deliver to me free of charge. For a place that spent time on the news channels the day before, they sure are a pain to deal with. THey made me promise they yard would be fenced, and purchase a microchip. I honestly would not have adopted if my two young kids were not with me. I adopted another dog from a lady in Brookside, she delivered her to me, and strangely enough, this dog came from Halfway Home as well a couple years ago. She had a bad experience as well and said she wouldnt go back either. Well enough is enough, time to bury the hatchet, just frustrated because I thought I was helping out and was basically talked down to, and was made quite clear they didnt care if I was there or not. On the flipside, the neutering and meds and such I felt to be very economical and wish that more people would participate instead of charging astronomical amounts of money to do the same service. That would probably help with more people spaying and neutering their pets. My brother paid over 300 bucks for the same service I just got 135 for. I dont believe his were even microchipped. THanks alot for all your help, and sorry I cannot give you positive feedback.”
“I have been watching the HH from afar for about six months but the other day I had an issue with a found dog that pushed me over the edge. I hope it will bring some light to the problems and start some change.”
“he got a dog from HHPA some time ago and the dog had parvo and a lot of other medical problems that he was not told about at HHPA and it almost died as a result. He said that now his dog has existing medical problems because of the diseases that were not properly treated at HHPA.”
There are so many “stories” out there and it’s your responsibility to decipher what is provided to you and determine what your response will be. Will you even do anything? Can you sit back like I did and hold secrets close to your heart for fear that you could be prevented from helping? Will you turn your head and shield your eyes from the pain that countless volunteers have witnessed every single day spent with Kansas City’s forgotten “Death Row”? These dogs are here because of us, we breed them, abuse and neglect them. We are at fault, not them.
I’ve learned a bunch this past year. I’ve met amazing people, found every day heroes hiding in poop covered clothes, wept tears for all those that we have lost and found out who I am in the process. I know that I get attached too easily, I do not fear those that I am told to, I don’t believe in breed legislation, I will never buy an animal from a pet store, I won’t give up until it’s over, I fight to the very end and that I can not wait until certain people have to cross that Rainbow Bridge to get into heaven. I love to sit on a big rock at the end of a long driveway with a pooch in my lap, watching cars go by. My dog looks at me very weird when I come home smelling like I had an affair and I strip my clothes off in the hall and throw them in the washer before he even realizes what I did. My heart hurts and I cry most of the way home after every single trip to the shelter.
I also learned that R. Wayne Steckelberg is a mythical creature that doesn’t exist, for in over a year I only saw him one time so it could have been an apparition. Maybe for St. Patrick’s Day we should all hunt the Steckelberg instead of the little green guy that has gold. You’d think that someone that manages a facility would be seen more than one time in a year. Just sayin’. Maybe Steck should stick with his bar venture. I hear The End Zone (name drop) is a happening place. I wish I had friends that got me liquor licenses. (http://www.gladstone.mo.us/City_Government/minutes/2008/032408.htm)
52 days? Well, some great volunteers and a few good HWH staff taught me that in 52 days it will take a ton of work and deliberation but on that 53rd day, we can rejoice and revel in victory because while we may be small in numbers we are big in heart.