The old saying goes that every dog has its day.
In Delta, the same can also be said for the cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and any other critters who find themselves at the Delta Community Animal Shelter (DCAS). And the special day in question is Dec. 25.
That’s when staff working Christmas Day, and a host of volunteers, make the biggest holiday of the year as special as possible with treats, decorations and plenty of hugs and kind words for those who lack a proper, full-time home.
“We try everyday to make it like Christmas here,” says DCAS shelter manager Sarah Lowe. “We try and spoil the animals all the time. But at Christmas it’s really nice because we are closed to the public. And we have volunteers who come in and try and make the day that much more special.”
Preparations for the day are often made early in the month thanks to shelter supporters and animal lovers dropping off items—usually anonymously.
“We had a donation of a whole bunch of turkey-flavoured cat food. So, we were able to give the cats turkey dinner last Christmas, which was probably the coolest thing ever,” says Melanie Belanger, an animal care attendant at the shelter who has worked the past three Christmas days, and who will be on duty again this year. “Our front gates were closed, but they left the bags with a little, unsigned note that said, ‘No cat should be without turkey at Christmas time.'”
“The generosity of the public is truly incredible,” adds Lowe. “It’s nice to know that even though they (shelter animals) may not be wanted in somebody’s home, they’re not forgotten.”
While the doors to the shelter in the Tilbury area may be officially closed, the place is awash with activity each Dec. 25 with dog-walking, cat grooming, and distribution of gifted foods.
“We get lots of people (volunteers) who come routinely every single year. We have a gentleman who drops off marrow bones, cooked bones from the butcher. We have another woman who donates canned cat food,” says Lowe.
One of the volunteers looking forward to her first Christmas Day at the shelter is Ladner’s Danika Midtdal.
Midtdal, 37, who in January marks her first anniversary as a shelter volunteer, is planing to spend a couple of full days at the facility between Christmas and New Year’s doing whatever needs to be done on site.
“During the holidays when the shelter is closed (to the public) there’s a chance to get done the extra stuff—the cleaning, paperwork and other stuff. And I do that quite often, if I have an extra day, I’ll come in and help out.”
Midtdal says her motivation comes from not being able to keep a cat in her small home.
She also uses the time at the shelter as a way of relaxing.
“I love coming here,” she says. “It’s pretty amazing for me, because no matter how bad my day has been I come here and I say to myself, ‘It’s all good now.’ I kind of decompress, and it’s all good.”
She also is buoyed by the fact the DCAS has a no-kill policy.
“I love how kind they are here,” Midtdal says. “I don’t think everyone necessarily knows that they are so kind to the animals, and so concerned with their welfare. I always say that this is my happy place. Even if I’m cleaning up poop, washing dishes, or doing whatever, I feel like I’m contributing. That’s why I volunteer. I just want to do something to help these animals because in a lot of cases they are not in their ‘forever’ home yet.”
A giving time
Christmas is generally a time of giving, and for animal lovers that sense of generosity is certainly extended to the DCAS.
“Everyone wants to give at this time of year, right,” says Belanger. “Everyone is trying to find a reason, or a way to give back to the community. And homeless animals are probably one of the best ones because they have nothing other than the four walls around them, and whatever we can give them.”
To help make the stay at the shelter more pleasant the extra attention from staff and volunteers goes a long way. So does the donation of much-needed items.
Lowe says there are some local organizations that make a point of donating large quantities of food and toys prior to the big day.
Others simply give money out of the kindness of theirn hearts.
“We had a woman come in a few days ago who can’t have a cat where she lives, but she’s always wanted one,” Belanger says. “So, every year she comes down and donates $300 to the (shelter) cats and says the money can be used for anything we need. She just really wants the cats to have a bit of special care.”
“That’s great,” Lowe says, “because donations from Christmas time help stock us for the rest of the year. Christmas is a huge help for us.”
While the shelter’s wish list can be long, one of the most needed items is kitten food.
“And the dogs always need chews because they can get bored, even though they get out lots for walks,” Lowe says. “Our shelter is good for that because we have so many volunteers.”
She adds that in the past year at the shelter the 150 or so listed volunteers provided in excess of 3,500 hours of their time.
And while just a handful make their way on Dec. 25 to the shelter—which has a new site nearby where ground is expected to be broken sometime in 2012—the day is made “magical” for the animals and their human friends.
“Everyone is a little more jolly, for lack of a better word, on Christmas Day,” Belanger says. “And I find that goes to the animals as well.”
Aside from the opportunity to go for a walk the shelter staff try and have the dogs spend some play time together.
“We’re a little more relaxed during the Christmas season. Everyone is a little more ‘lovey’ and the dogs even seem to be a little calmer,” Belanger says.
“A lot of cats can also become anxious. Some will get a little depressed. So, we’ll jot their names down and tell the volunteers to spend some extra time—take along a brush and some extra treats and sit with them,” Lowe says.
To find out more information about the Delta Community Animal Shelter and how to become a volunteer, visit deltacommunityanimalshelter.ca and click on the “I want to” tab and scroll down to the “become a volunteer” section.
If you would like to make a donation to the DCAS, that can also be made on the website by clicking the green “donate” box at the top of the page.