President’s Blog

John Zahara, current LMHS Board President, and Turtle, a cat he fell in love with and adopted, in 2016.

May 31, 2021

Lucy Mackenzie helps in numerous “other” ways with the CARE Program

I’d like to start this blog with a question:  

How hard, how traumatic, would it be if you had to give up your pets, and have them no longer part of your lives?  (That is a painful reality to ponder…)

Imagine that an illness, or injury made you unable to care for your pets. Or perhaps a life change, or a job change, made it impossible for you to keep them based on housing or financial implications.  Or perhaps a medical issue for them made you unable to provide the care that they desperately need.  All of these are gut wrenching, traumatic situations to imagine, but also all too real.

Unfortunately situations like these happen all the time and loving, dedicated pet owners are forced to make (or at least consider) the idea that they can no longer keep their furry family member.  And those situations lead to an area where Lucy Mackenzie can be of assistance providing an aspect of help that lots of people are never aware of.

As we all know, at Lucy Mackenzie our number one priority is to find the next loving home for animals in our care, and to brighten their days while we await their adoption.  But our number one priority is ALSO to help devoted owners keep their wonderful pets if we can give them a hand in doing that…and everyone can help.

Sometimes what we can do is help out with pet essentials through the Lucy Mackenzie Pet Pantry.  Food, and toys and beds and litter are available to those in need.  It may not seem like much, but when paychecks are not stretching far enough it can mean that pets can eat well and be provided for, without impacting a family’s finances.  

We can also be there when a pet’s surprise medical condition or injury is beyond a family’s ability to finance.  Jake’s Friend’s Fund has been there since 1999 helping to find a path to treatment for an animal, and their family, in need.

Lucy Mackenzie can assist when emergency foster care is needed due to medical and housing issues for owners.  With our network of foster homes our goal is to help provide a safe, loving shelter for companion animals when urgent situations require a temporary home for a family pet.  And when that immediate need has passed that pet can go back to the family they love.

And beyond Lucy Mackenzie’s walls and purview, we hope that we can all help our neighbors when some assistance might mean that an animal can stay with their owner.  It’s not unrealistic to say that in some cases that animal may be that person’s best friend in the world, and helping to keep them together is a wonderful gift that we can help to make happen.  If you love animals, and can’t imagine having life events force you to say goodbye to your friends, you can help.

You can volunteer to be part of our Foster Network.  You might take in an animal for 6 days or 6 months (that is up to YOU), but you would be helping someone to have a shot at getting their animal back after their current situation is resolved.  You absolutely have a ton of say in the parameters, but you could be the most important person for that animal, and that family, in that moment.

You can donate food, or supplies or money to our Pet Pantry.  We use the products that we obtain to help families in our region manage in challenging times and keep those beloved animals who can make all the difference in someone’s day.

And you can donate to Jake’s Friends Fund.  This program works with vets to ensure that whenever possible, animals in need can get the treatment, surgery, and medical care that they need to be out of pain, out of danger and to be that treasured family member that we hope to never be without.

We can all help, and Lucy Mackenzie’s CARE Program is in the center helping all of us to help each other.

March 10, 2021

These are a few of our favorite things…

I’ve mentioned before that working at an animal shelter can be demanding, both physically and emotionally, but it also come with *huge* rewards.  Allow me to share some of the things that can make our days and our weeks WONDERFUL (GENUINELY wonderful). Some I think you would guess, and others, maybe not so much.  This is MY list in MY order because if I had tried to do a double blind survey of the staff with scatter graphs and actual analysis the staff would (lovingly?!?) mock me…  My general view is that if you can’t calculate something to three decimal places you might as well just guess, use a random answer generator, or throw a dart.  So here are some favorite things…

Friendships – It’s really heartwarming when you see a frightened animal find comfort and calm in a new (furry) friend. Sometimes as a new dog or cat is figuring out what to think of humans they just might find it easier to trust a dog or a cat who can be their buddy.  And occasionally, because their new buddy likes humans, that may create an important step along the way.  It’s very sweet.

Healing – It is a joyous thing when a treatment, surgery, therapy, course of meds, begins to bring relief to an animal, just as it would with a pet of your own.  Any animal with any treatable condition or discomfort is on our minds and on our radar a lot, not just for those hours each day that we are with them, but also for the nights or days away from the shelter when we are not.  Folks check in on days off to see how our furry friend is fairing because we really do care… And when the treatment gets traction it’s a wonderful relief for all of us.

Trust – It’s great when an animal is able to trust us. Some of our animals arrive confident and goofy and welcome our attention immediately.  But some have come from difficult situations, or, just as confusing for them, some have come to us from a decade plus in one loving home where they did not have a care in the world.  It’s easy to understand why they are confused.  In some cases it may be months before the staff and volunteers are genuinely trusted and we work diligently toward that day.  Eventually they might take a treat from your hand, or allow you to pet them, or wag their tail as you approach.  That breakthrough moment just makes you want to do more, and visit more, and experience more and it’s very special.
Adoptions – And it’s probably zero surprise that we LOVE IT when an animal finds their owners and they can begin that next phase of their journey.  We may’ve known that friend for mere hours, but sometimes it has taken years to get that animal ready for their special day.   And seeing our efforts and that animal’s efforts come together in an adoption can be very poignant.  That may sound silly or overly dramatic, but their comfort and well being is why we do what we do

Updates – Unless you have spent time in an animal shelter, doing what the staff and volunteers do, you might not appreciate how fulfilling a note or photo or video of our friend enjoying their new life can be.  At some level all we want is for them to be happy, and a communication that tells that story is the perfect boost that some days we just need.  It can make all the hard, stressful, sometimes daunting work worth every minute, knowing that we were able to facilitate a new and better life for an innocent animal.

BONUS Favorite Thing –  I hesitate to bring it up, because it is rare, but magnificent to behold.  On a few occasions when an animal is going home, the adopter upon hearing that their newly chosen family member has a best friend at the shelter…opens their heart and their home to that additional animal (and buddies can stay together!!!).  The adopter is really the star of that moment but the animals are the grateful recipients of that rare and wonderful kindness…

January 14, 2021

Special Adoptions…

One of my happiest memories at Lucy Mackenzie was the day when some cat savvy adopters who were already friends of LMHS stopped in and said they would like to adopt 4 cats who were the oldest and/or the longest time residents.  Those unnamed, yet to be identified, cats were specifically the friends who they wanted to give a home to.  For those staff and volunteers who were there, that day will stay with us for a very long time.  I’ve also written on Facebook about a friend who on multiple occasions has adopted the longest time resident at the shelter, in various ways BECAUSE they *were the longest time resident*.  She is a superhero in my mind and I am regularly amazed at her kindness.

Two of my favorite adoptions were older animals with health issues whose endearing personalities were way bigger than seemed possible … I’ll call them Zatrick and Zeorgie to protect their privacy.  Wonderful senior animals who LOVED being with people and wanted to give that love to their humans.  Their adopters knew that these old souls needed a home to call their own.

Adopters asking about the oldest or longest time residents is always a wonderful question to hear, and it does happen.  I remember another adopter who wondered if we had any animals whose owners had passed.  They wanted to be that animal’s next loving family, and show them just how good life can be again.  And they took her home…

We have had adopters who were specifically interested in FIV+ cats, a category of animals who can’t go to every home. In some cases the adopters currently had no cats and knew that they could open their hearts to an FIV+ cat.  In another case, people have come in saying they ONLY adopt FIV+ cases so they can remain eligible to provide for this special group.  (I will add that FIV+ cats who I’ve met at LMHS are some of the nicest and most loving cats I’ve ever known.)

Adopters regularly call to inquire about animals who have come to Lucy Mackenzie from less than ideal situations.  They hear their stories on social media and they want to open their homes to change that dog or cat’s life forever.  They want to make up for years of neglect in any and every way that they can, and their stories are some of the most heartwarming.  The entire shelter was walking on clouds when Zozzy (not his real name) won the doggie lottery and had a loving family embrace his medical challenges and needs, and the whole lot of them could not have been happier. 

What all these adoptions have in common is that the adopters felt that they could give something back in return for the love and trust and companionship of that new family member.  It is clearly their generous spirit that inspired them to provide a loving home for their new friend, as that animal provides them with lots of smiles and snuggles and joy in return.

December 01, 2020

We are their temporary family…

Lucy Mackenzie is responsible for providing for many animals at a time and there is something uniquely emotional about it.  Have you ever had to pet sit for a friend?  It can be genuinely stressful.  Heaven forbid that anything would happen under your watch.  You check the latch on the gate twice (no, three times) and you look at the notes again and again to ensure that the evening meal is just what you thought it was supposed to be.  You cannot let anything happen to that cute little creature while they’re in your care.

Now imagine that you have 5 dozen of those little lives to look after and imagine that you were not given *any* feeding instructions or advice about favorite toys or how they react to thunder.  You don’t know if they are afraid of dogs, cats, doors, men, or footballs.  You are watching and learning with every interaction.  Every hour….every day.  You watch EVERYTHING and try to learn.

Now imagine that the nice people at Lucy Mackenzie are taking care of those dogs and cats and the occasional rabbit or horse just until their (new, soon to be introduced) family comes to pick them up.  We don’t know when their new humans will be by, but in the meantime we have to keep them safe, and healthy and happy, because they are just ours for the moment.  And we want to tell their family all about them when they show up and we will explain about the food, and fears and their very favorite things.  Most people will never know how hard it is to say goodbye to these furry friends that we have made.  They are friends that we have cared for and comforted in what may be the most challenging time in their life.  

We wished we could know everything that needs to be known about each animal on Day 1, but it is rare that that happens.  So we take a watchful approach and learn what we can, as we can, so that we can be the very best temporary family that any animal might hope for.  It’s challenging at times, but always very gratifying and worth every stressful minute.  They are only with us at Lucy Mackenzie for a moment in time, but trust me when I say, they are important to us and in our hearts forever.

October 29, 2020

I am not worthy…

Most of the people reading this blog entry probably have some kind of relationship with Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society, as do I.  Living in West Windsor I was first a SUPPORTER like so many of you.  Next, I was a VOLUNTEER and I know there are many of those who walk dogs, clean kennels, socialize cats, and help at events… as well as read our social media.  (Yay volunteers…) One of my favorite groups are the ADOPTERS…without them the system would quickly break down and our animals would not get their loving homes.  (*thank you*)

But there is one esteemed group that I am not strong enough, nor tough enough to be a member of ….and that is the dedicated STAFF at Lucy Mackenzie.  I’d like supporters of Lucy Mackenzie to have some idea why this group is so deserving of our appreciation.  It is an incredibly hard job in so many ways…

Firstly, it is physically demanding….way more than I expected.  After a shift you quickly discover muscles you didn’t know you had.  There’s contorted moves to clean every nook and cranny, along with strength tests as supplies are moved around the facility, and agility challenges as you deal with BIG athletic dogs.  

Secondly, in a very different dimension, it’s an understatement to say that it’s not easy to console that devastated  pet owner who due to jobs, or health, or life, can no longer keep their beloved pet.  Lucy Mackenzie certainly explores every possible workaround but sometimes the only option is for them to deliver their friend to us and hand over the leash.  I am simply not tough enough to be handed that leash even though it may be the best for all involved.  Trust me…it is gut wrenching for everyone.  The staff is consistently amazing and kind despite the pain in that moment.

And occasionally (fortunately rarely) we receive an innocent animal because of what I will lump into the category of “neglect”.  I’m glad the staff is there for that animal, as they do their best to being consoling and comforting and welcoming.  That animal needs a loving human at that moment more than ever.   It may not be pretty and it is definitely not easy.  But I am glad they are there to do it with compassion.

And lastly, and also rarely, despite everyone’s best efforts, our veterinarian team, our volunteers and our staff, not every animal has a successful outcome and some unfortunately  don’t make it.  Those who have put their heart and soul into doing their very best for that friend are confronted with the painful reality that our best efforts were not good enough.  It’s hard to lose a pet, we all know that, but when you, like Lucy Mackenzie, are dealing with 100’s of animals coming through your home per year, some of whom arrived on our doorstep in need of a miracle, it does happen more often.  And it hurts.   Every-single-time. 

It is true that our volunteers are witness to some of what makes the job at Lucy Mackenzie incredibly hard, but we get to continue with our dog walking or food bowl filling or our sweeping while the staff does the really hard job that is required to be there for animals and people  in need.  And they do…. 

I write this in appreciation for the impossible job that our staff somehow does.

July 21, 2020

Do I choose the pet, or does the pet choose me?

It’s not uncommon for plenty of knowledgeable pet people to support the perspective that the right animal is going to find you interesting and will seek to be your friend.  And that may well be the ideal animal to bring home!  In that case, many would say , that animal chooses you.  And that is wonderful!

But there is also a likelihood that there is a truly lovely and deserving animal who is very sad after recently losing their long time human and is sitting alone in the corner.  Or perhaps there is another quiet friend who is dying to walk over and meet you, but is intimidated in the presence of a crowd of other animals.  One of those might be the right pet for you too!

But, the good news, we have animals who have made huge progress in trusting despite the noise and occasional chaos which is sometimes normal in a shelter.  What they need now is a chance to get to know their human in a new home where they can fall in love.We have animals who might have come from abusive situations and DESPITE that they are willing to try to trust again.  It’s one of the most amazing things that I see at Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society, that willingness of some of these animals to open up and trust humans again.

Our staff has insights into the background and current progress and needs of all the animals.  They know the older animals who are trying to understand this new reality after having had one home for a decade or more.  Those animals want nothing more than to find a new friend to bond with.  They know the pets who have recovered or are recovering from injuries or medical issues.  These animals deserve to be rewarded for their tenacity and fighting their way back to health.

Will the animal choose you?  Perhaps, but maybe only if you ask the right questions and take the time to see some of the animals who will not come running to you right away…even though they may really, really want to.  If you open up, you will see them…

June 13, 2020

While this was written six months ago for the 2020 Winter Edition of MacChat, we all felt that it was highly appropriate to post as John’s inaugural blog post. Enjoy!

I’m honored to be the new President of Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society, a noble institution that was here, caring for animals in need, a century before I arrived, and hope- fully will endure for centuries after I’m gone. I’ve been pushing brooms and petting animals for years now as a volunteer and love when someone meets me and asks “Are you John… the Cat Guy?” I’m only saddened that I don’t qualify to be recognized as the “Dog Guy,” too! I need to work on that.

I also love to hear a visitor to the shelter exclaim how healthy and comfort- able the animals look, how clean and bright and cheerful the facility is. Many people work diligently 365 days a year to keep it that way, caring for the animals and providing them with whatever they need.

But there is another section to the shelter, rarely seen by the public, that is also clean, and bright and the animals there are getting healthier and more comfortable hour by hour and day by day. Each and every day, in those spac- es, Lucy Mackenzie treats cats and dogs (and the occasional bunny or horse) behind the scenes in a quiet healing area where they can be rehabilitated. A protected place where they can recover from whatever trauma, injury or ill- ness requires our gentle attention.

People hear about the large newsworthy stories in the press involving doz- ens of mistreated animals, and we are absolutely ready to provide all the help that we can in those cases. But what people don’t see or realize is that every day of every year we have numerous animals who we are caring for behind the scenes and giving them a chance to get better so that someday they can be out with our visitors and be considered to be taken home, to their forever home.

Once they are healed, from whatever challenge they came in with, we will proudly put them in the public portion of Lucy Mackenzie and gladly tell our visitors how brave and tenacious and wonderful they are.

Because these furry friends really are all those things…

John Zahara started volunteering at Lucy Mackenzie Humane Society in 2014 after he retired from the software industry and moved to Brownsville, VT. He joined Lucy Mackenzie’s Board of Trustees in March 2016, and was elected as President in 2020. In addition to being our Board President, he will always be known affectionally as the “Cat Guy” and can be found “pushing brooms and petting cats” regularly as a volunteer.

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