These past couple of years have transformed communities and families. As the family dynamic changes, the dog and cat family members are also affected. Comparing the first few months of 2022 to 2021, the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter has seen an almost 40% increase in owner surrenders due to health or death of a human family member. These surrenders are always so emotional for the family members and the shelter staff. This is why it is so fulfilling when the shelter is presented with an opportunity to reunite dogs or cats with extended family members, instead of finding these animals a new home.
The story of Secrets and Rizzo is a shining example of how important the shelter considers family and what this type of reunion does for the family and the individuals dedicated to keeping families together.
Secrets, an 11-year-old solid black cat, and Rizzo, a 5-year-old shepherd type dog, came to the shelter after their one and only person was found deceased. When these types of cases arrive, the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter always holds the animals in hopes a family member or friend will come forward to claim them. In this case, the family did come forward. They let us know that Secrets and Rizzo were the deceased’s whole world. The problem was – they were living in New York state and Secrets and Rizzo were sitting with us in Central Texas.
Staff agreed that the best way to honor Secrets’ and Rizzo’s person was to get these two home with extended family. Staff began working with the family to plan a safe transport to the Northeast. After two transport attempts by plane were canceled due to bad weather, staff did not give up. Instead, they broadened their scope and shared the story of Rizzo and Secrets to anyone who would listen. Their story caught the ear of the director of Lost Dogs of Texas and hit a chord.
The Lost Dogs of Texas helps animal shelters, like the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, track down information from “dead end” microchips. These are microchips from lost animals that don’t easily track to the animal’s person because information may not have been kept up-to-date or for various other reasons.
Traditionally, the volunteers of this organization do additional research to locate up-to-date information for animal shelters that have failed to make contact with the person identified on the microchip. Recently, the volunteers of this organization have experienced more moments of sorrow after finding that many of these microchips have the information of a person who is now deceased. Hearing that a family was so dedicated to a cat and a dog was so inspiring to them, and was the happiness and hope the organization also needed.
With everyone working together, Secrets and Rizzo were given spots on a ground transport with Shelter-A-Mutt from Central Texas to New York state. At the end of the drive, they were met by family eagerly waiting to bring them home. Soon after that, we received a video of Rizzo doing her favorite thing about her: playing fetch in a local park, and an update on Secrets settling in.
The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter knows the importance of dogs and cats in our lives. We know that caring for an animal at the shelter is more than just filling bowls and scrubbing kennels. Sometimes the work is honoring the life of someone else who would have done the same for those animals. It was such an honor to care for Secrets and Rizzo and such a joy to reunite them with family. Even though Secrets and Rizzo would have easily been adopted in our adoption program, that would not have been the right thing to do. Instead, putting in the extra effort to uphold the importance of family, especially in the darkest of times, led to thankfulness, hope and celebration across organizations and across state lines.
Misty Valenta is the animal services director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.