Forty-seven canine companions were howling and barking in their kennels impatiently waiting for the Christmas meals that 16 staff and volunteers prepared for them at the Castaic Animal Care Center on Sunday morning.
In the spirit of Christmas, volunteers at the Castaic shelter every year come together to remind the furry friends at the shelter that they are loved and cared for despite their current situation.
Approximately 50 feeding bowls were being prepared with rice, chicken, green beans, and pumpkin puree ensuring that the four-legged canines were being fed a healthy, fun, nutritious treat.
“Today is about pretty much making them feel special. We acknowledge that being in the shelter is a very stressful environment, it’s not an ideal living situation for them,” said newcomer volunteer Jocelyn Bonilla. The staff and volunteers try to find ways to give them an extra treat and show their love, Bonilla added.
In a barrel, staff members and volunteers began to load all the bowls and made their way to the kennels where one meal per dog was placed. Some kennels had a pair of puppies and they would have trouble eating from their own, getting sloppy, and eating out of their siblings’ bowls.
The Castaic Animal Care Center is always seeking volunteers due to its staff shortage. During the holidays it’s harder for them to receive the help they need to care for all the dogs currently there.
“These dogs need volunteers every day. There’s just not enough,” said Cynthia Ressler, who has been volunteering for two years at the center. “Today is a little bit more special because we’re sacrificing time with our family so we can be with our animal family.”
The center currently has 21 staff members with over 40 dogs, cats, and sometimes farm animals that may need emergency shelter.
It can be a tough heartbreaking commitment for the volunteers because there are times that they come in for their shift and one of the four-legged dogs is no longer there. Due to overcrowding, the shelter is sometimes forced to make the tough decision of euthanasia.
Although there are tough days, there are also good ones, said the volunteers, and they do everything in their power to find the animals a loving home.
One success story of a pit bull named Loki serves as a reminder for the volunteers that the sheltered dogs can be saved. Loki was scheduled to be put down in 72 hours until he became an internet sensation on multiple social media platforms, said Ressler. He was described as a good, loving dog and with a little bit of hope,
Loki got adopted by a local family. Ressler knew the mother when they were both students at West Ranch High School.
Today, Ressler receives updates about Loki periodically and how much he has grown in his loving home. Loki shares his family with another dog and even takes pictures with the daughter of the family.
The shelter utilizes Instagram and other social media apps to share their dogs’ stories in hopes of gaining more attention that will lead to the four-legged friends finding their forever homes.
WeRateDogs Founder Matt Nelson was present to help feed the dogs with the volunteers and also help with content. His official WeRateDogs Instagram account has 3.3 million followers.
“They have come to help feed the dogs and spread the good word about what it is that we do and being kind to the animals,” said Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control Director Marcia Mayeda. “It just reminds everybody how important it is to treat animals kindly, that they’re a part of our lives, and that they [deserve] to share the holidays with us.”
Nelson patiently and kindly put the bowls in the kennels where dogs of all sizes quickly ran to enjoy their meal while he filmed some of them eating.
All 47 dogs ate their meals quickly, enjoying their steamed rice and fresh boiled chicken. Some dogs were shortly then taken out of their kennels to have a one-on-one play date with a few of the volunteers.
Roo, a young male red-furred dog, was playing catch with senior volunteer Ashley Bassett in one of the enclosed structures. In the kennel, he was calm and collected, but while he ran around to catch a tennis ball thrown by Bassett, Roo’s personality came out.
Volunteers don’t just clean out kennels and refill their bowls during their scheduled feeding times. They also take the dogs out on walks to give them socialization practice and have play dates with them so the animals can decompress, Bassett said.
They also run social media accounts and help with photography, so their canines have cute photos that allow their unique goofy personalities to be captured and give them a higher chance of being adopted.
Volunteers and staff continue to have hope, share their love, and keep a positive mindset for all their furry friends, continuing to show these dogs that they are loved and that doesn’t change during the holidays.
For more information about the Castaic Animal Care Center and volunteer opportunities, visit: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/