by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month.
You know what rumors are like—like a jar full of moths. Once they escape, they’re all over the place. -Rhys Bowen
Welcome to the rumor mill, where all Pit Bulls are man-eating monsters, all Chihuahuas are barky brats, and all children behave like perfect angels. Right, and Donald Trump respects women. Whether it’s a nightly news story, a Facebook post, or just something you overheard, a rumor can spread like wildfire. Any organization can get a bad rap from just one rumor, and Animal Rescue of Fresno is no exception. Occasionally, we are questioned about our motives and how we conduct business. Perhaps people don’t realize we’re actually the good guys? We’re the bespectacled Harry Potter to vicious Voldemort, the resolute Ripley to an acid-spewing Alien, and we’re the Batman to one freaky-faced Joker. Maybe we need our own capes.One rumor is that ARF is unwilling to take in strays. On any given Saturday, we take at least 20-30 calls from concerned citizens who have found dogs. It’s sad, and every caller has desperation in their voice, which turns to frustration when we have to turn them away. Believe me, if we had 500 acres and nothing holding us back, we would take them all. It’s not that we don’t want to, but legally, we can’t accept strays due to California laws that view animals as property. Regrettably, we must refer people to their local city or county shelter, as this is generally the first place an owner will look for their dog. If your pet has gone missing, take the time to physically visit the shelters; just phoning them is not enough. You may know your small brown Chihuahua has a mole on her back right paw, and she squeals like a rubber ducky when excited, but the shelter won’t. Especially since the likelihood of them having 47 other small brown Chihuahuas is pretty high. Yup, barky ones, too.
All shelter animals must go through a holding period of several days to give their owners a fighting chance to find them. After the holding period is up, ARF can pull dogs that are unclaimed and scheduled for euthanasia. I know it’s a distasteful scenario, but these rescues are where the bulk of our deserving dogs come from. And if euthanasia is a word that chills your bones a bit, then do some good and spread a couple other words around: spay and neuter.
Shelters wouldn’t be bursting at the seams if responsible pet owners had their animals fixed. Sorry, soapbox moment there. ARF doesn’t pull aggressive animals, and all dogs must pass a temperament test to determine their adoptability. After some paperwork, they become legally ours. From Death Row to that Pot of Gold at the end of the rainbow; lucky dogs indeed.
Another completely unfounded rumor about ARF is that we’re just in it for the money. People are shocked that we charge $175 for our dogs. Boy, we must be rolling in the dough. We must have gold plated kennels, manicured yards, a modern office, and state-of-the art appliances. Um, reality check. When you’re all volunteers surviving on a shoestring budget, it’s more like creaky kennels, hole-covered yards, cranky copiers, and a dishwasher from 1975. Our sheds constantly need mending, coolers and heaters need repairing, and every weekend our exhausted washer and dryer scream, “WE’RE DONE!” But we invariably make it work: kennels get fixed, holes get filled, handymen are called, and life goes on. Above all, dogs need to be fed, housed, and given medical attention. When a dog has major dental issues, those pearly white canines aren’t going to pay for themselves. Plus, all ARF dogs are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped before they leave the premises. So aside from some wonderful donations, we write the checks for just about everything. Vienna sausages included.
But what about larger animal facilities like The Fresno Chaffee Zoo? Could one small rumor make a big impact? On a recent Sunday, ARF volunteers Mindi, Erika, and myself found the answer. Our primary goal was to experience the new African Adventure, but also to see the cutest thing since baby goats in pajamas—the MEERKATS! And yes, you have to say it super loud, or it doesn’t count. MEERKATS! If you haven’t been to the zoo in ages, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at all the amazing upgrades. Let’s just say the African Adventure is positively mind-blowing; it’s like having a little piece of the Serengeti right in your own backyard. There are gigantic giraffes, enormous elephants, talking tigers, and a delightful baby rhino that literally makes you go, “Awwww.” Kangaroos crash in the sun, wallabies graze on grass, and zebras zigzag on the plain.
We got up close and personal with sure-footed sloths, we fawned over pink flamingos, saw one colossal Komodo dragon, toucans that weren’t toucans, and all manner of slithery reptiles, including vibrant dart frogs that looked like tiny hopping jewels. Orangutans hung around like oversized oranges, sea lions surfed, and the Kookaburra laughed at colorful cockatiels. After lunch on the patio of the Kopje Lodge, we walked down to the low glass wall that separates animals from humans. I wondered how they kept children from scaling that wall, and tumbling down the steep embankment below.
We asked a young man who was sweeping, but he stated he was only janitorial personnel. Five seconds later, he said something that made the hair on the back of our necks stand up. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like, “I do know they medicate the animals.”
Our mouths dropped as he continued, “Yeah, they sedate the animals to make them calmer.” And with that, he turned and walked away. After we picked our jaws up off the floor, we said in unison, “What the…what? Did he really just say that?” I think Mindi’s actual words were, “Well, that just left a sour taste in my mouth.”
Now Mindi is our very patient volunteer coordinator, and NOT the person you want to say something that audacious too. Intent on squashing this obviously false rumor, we sought out the first person in a zoo uniform we could find. And boy, did we find the right one. Enter Amanda, a tall, willowy redhead, whose firecracker personality perfectly matched her long braided mane. She’s like an entire pot of coffee with a couple extra espresso shots. I’ve never met anyone so excited and unabashedly in love with their job. But after we told her about our conversation with the janitor, Amanda turned into a mama bear defending her cubs. She was both horrified and furious that someone would make such an accusation. After thanking us, Amanda promised the situation would be dealt with, and fast. With that, we hastily made a beeline down the trail; we had a date with the MEERKATS!
On the way, Mindi made a pit stop at the ladies room. When she joined us later, I thought she’d seen a ghost. She overheard a young girl say to her mother, “Mom, you don’t really think they do that to the animals, do you?” Wherein her mother replied, “I don’t know, but I think we should call the news.” Startled, Mindi stepped in and informed her of our talk with Amanda. Which left us wondering, just how many people had that knucklehead talked to? We swiftly found our favorite mama bear again, and Mindi relayed the story. Amanda asked if we could point out the gossipmonger, and Erika stepped up to the plate. We made ourselves scarce while Amanda and another zookeeper confronted him. His response to their inquiry about his actions truly shocked us all; he was only joking. Really? Bozo, if you think that’s some kind of hilarious joke, then maybe you should go back to Clown School. Luckily, this idiot wasn’t even an employee of the park, but extra help they hired for the day. In any event, that’s an incredibly dangerous game he was playing, and it could have ended very badly for the zoo. Luckily, we ARF volunteers were on the case! You’re welcome.
Chatting more with Amanda, we discovered what an extraordinary person she really is. She loves working with the big cats, including two cheetahs, which have just been accepted into a very prestigious breeding program. She then invited us to stick around because it was almost feeding time for the lions. Whoa, we get to see the King of Beasts chow down in person? Yes, please! A lioness and her cub were fed first, while the male and second female paced impatiently. C’mon people, I ordered the filet hours ago! A few minutes later, Amanda and her partner made their way to the towering lion enclosure. Carefully and methodically, the trainers pulled scoops of raw meat from containers, and fed the hungry animals through the fence with tongs. They also used hand signals, whistles, and touch sticks to give simple commands. These aren’t your everyday Tabby cats, my friends, these beasts have some frightening fangs. Nice kitty, kitty…open wide.
As we dragged our tired bodies back to the car, we reminisced about the fantastic day we had at the zoo. Sure there were way too many screaming kids, double-wide strollers, and not enough parking spaces, but it was a great time. We headed home completely exhausted, but vindicated. We kept a vicious rumor from staining the reputation of one of Fresno’s most important institutions. We met an incredible zookeeper, with passion and joy for all creatures in her heart. We channeled our inner child with pizza, popcorn, and frosties. And what’s more thrilling than that? MEERKATS! And that’s no rumor.
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section and check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.