Lost and Found

I didn’t think I’d love this book, and in fact, I had a bit of dread about reading it. I figured it would be a painful read about horrible animal shelter conditions and euthanasia, but it ended up being both realistic and enjoyable. Lost & Found by Elizabeth Hess chronicles the author’s experiences during her time volunteering at a rural animal shelter outside New York City.

The author took on the volunteer work as a research project, but then became emotionally invested in the success of the shelter and the security of its residents. One of the most intriguing aspects of the story is how the author goes through mental “stages” the longer she works at the shelter, first allying herself with the potential adopters, then becoming more protective of the shelter and its policies, and finally becoming such an advocate for the animals that she has a difficult time wanting to adopt out to anyone.

The final stage is the most difficult, as Hess learns that she has to balance the needs of the animals in the shelter with the needs of all the animals who will need the shelter eventually—there’s no room for permanent residents. The book chronicles all the ridiculous reasons people abandon their pets, and accompanies local law enforcement on animal cruelty complaint investigations, and on the raid of a puppy mill.

Euthanasia isn’t described in detail but it is present, with the shelter director making daily decisions about who can stay, and who won’t be moving on to a permanent home. The pressure on the employees and volunteers in these situations must border on unbearable, and I’ve got a lot of respect for people who are able to make the tough decisions that the rest of us are sheltered from. So, if you’ve ever volunteered in a shelter you’ll find empathy here, and if you’re thinking about volunteering, this book will help give you some mental preparation about what to expect.