Those of us working in animal sheltering are frequently asked how we can bear to do our jobs when faced with staggering odds and numbers that just don’t seem to be in our favor.
The math of sheltering seemed daunting to me until I had a conversation with a colleague in the field who offered a perspective that sustains me to this day. It is another kind of shelter math she called ECSM, or Embarrassingly Corny Shelter Math.
This math compares a few days of shelter care with a lifetime of joy brought to a family by the right animal. For example: my dear kitty, Scallion, was an average-looking tabby with an expansive personality, a romantic at heart who loved the scent of ladies’ shampooed hair, nibbling on fresh cut grass and had an impressive habit of throwing himself to the ground to present his leopard-spotted tummy for rubbing. He lived a very respectable 17 years.
There are no records of his time at the shelter, but assuming he was brought in at birth, he only spent 56 days there before I adopted him at 8 weeks of age. The ECSM would be 56 days of shelter care compared with 17 years in loving home, or a ratio of 56:6,199 — a whopping .009 percent of his life was spent in a shelter!
For both of us, the 56 days were a small price to pay for all of the wonderful days that we had together.
In my ECSM equation, the 6,199 days I had with him were blissful and afforded me an opportunity not only to love and care for my dear friend but also to establish a wonderful friendship with our veterinarian who saw him regularly. Scallion went to his appointments begrudgingly as he did not appreciate having his routine disturbed by what in his opinion was an embarrassing and lowbrow event, but I loved creating the bond we had with our vet.
Year after year we cared for him together with routine medications and vaccines that kept him healthy, and treated his chronic inflammatory bowel disease and hyperthyroidism as he grew older. And at the end of his life we grieved together as we said goodbye.
In short, our veterinarian helped us keep as many of those precious days as we possibly could.
Once you start looking at shelter work from this perspective, you start to realize that animal shelters are central to the communities they serve and should be joyful places whose purpose is to save lives, create and expand loving families, reunite lost animals with their owners, and send animals out into the community to be cared for by our very own amazing local veterinarians for a lifetime. It should be a joyful partnership among all of us to extend that ECSM math as far and wide as it can go.
So start today! Come and get matched with your best friend. Count out your ECSM. Treasure it and develop a solid relationship with your local veterinarian to ensure that all of those days are golden.
— Jennifer Stone is the medical director and staff veterinarian at the Lawrence Humane Society. She received her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has been a shelter veterinarian for more than a decade. She moved to Lawrence in 2012 to be closer to family and friends. She loves Lawrence and is excited to have the opportunity to establish the Lawrence Humane Society as one of the best shelters in Kansas.