I remember making a phone call once in the early 90s to my dad. I was attending the University of Georgia, a Biology major, trying to get into Veterinary School.
I remember the day perfectly, it was a Friday, and had been raining. My windshield wipers needed replacing and I had been putting it off. I could barely see driving down the country highway.
I desperately wanted to talk to someone, and that someone was my dad. And this was pre-cell phone days, so I had to wait the 30-minute car drive to get to my landline to call him.
By the time he picked up the phone, despite my plan on holding my composure, I was sobbing. And I don’t mean the sniffling kind, I mean ugly-face, can’t-get-the-words-out sobbing.
My poor dad thought the worst. I remember him pleading “…was there an accident?…are you ok?…please say something I can understand…”
What came out of my mouth was probably not what he expected.
Why Valentails is important to me
I had spent the week volunteering at our local animal shelter. The first day, I had to help with the free clinic the shelter offered. No problems there, it was usually owners who came in for regular check-ups, vaccinations, ticks, etc.
The second day, I assisted a technician in surgery. This is where things started getting bad for me. They messed up and gave a cat too much anesthesia during a neuter procedure. He didn’t make it.
According to the tech, it was ‘no big deal’, because he had just been adopted and she was certain the new owners would adopt another one. They’d just tell her he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia.
No one in the surgery room disagreed.
I. Was. Horrified.
That night I didn’t sleep. I just kept hearing the sobs of the new owner in the lobby of when they told her the news. “We have other cats you can adopt…” said the tech to her. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
The third day, a man brought in his puppy who clearly had a broken leg. He wanted to surrender it. The puppy cried and yelped and screamed when the man left him. I stayed and tried to console the pup, and I’ll never forget looking into those deep pools of brown eyes as I told him his life would get better from now on.
The next morning, I found out the pup had been euthanized due to overcrowding and under-funding at the shelter. I honestly don’t remember that whole day as I tried to reconcile what had happened.
By the fifth day, I was a zombie. I remember a woman coming in with eight kittens who were so sick they couldn’t hold their heads up. She said she had thought about throwing them in the river, but didn’t have a bag.
I didn’t know what to say to her and after vomiting in the employee bathroom, I walked out. And one hour later, here I was trying to get all this out of my mouth to my poor father who, at this point, wasn’t sure if I was safe or not.
By the time I did regurgitate my story to my dad, all I heard was silence. “Dad…are you there…” I pleaded.
“I’m here.” he said. And then I heard him sigh. Dad had a softer heart than he ever wanted to admit. And, he knew mine was even more tender, and I know he was trying to find the words to help me.
Dad was usually a one-liner, cliche, kind of advise man. But, on this day, he really changed my life with some of the best advice, to this day, I’ve ever received.
“The world has problems Melissa. But, the good news is that you can do something about it.”
“But what Dad…what could I possibly do??” I fell onto my couch and felt so defeated.
“I’ll tell you…. And don’t ever forget this…
Do WHAT you can, HOW you can and WHEN you can”Thomas Grimes, Jr.
Fundraising for my furry friends speaks to my heart
Dad had once again stopped me from feeling hopeless and distraught. He had given me hope and a ray of light when I needed it most.
I couldn’t save the world that day. But maybe, I could do small things over the course of my life that could change the lives of a few animals. Or maybe a hundred, or a thousand. I have dreams…stay tuned for them.
So, in following my dad’s words of advice, over the years I’ve been photographing animals in rescue groups and shelters who need homes.
There really is nothing more rewarding than seeing homeless animals find their beloved home via one of my photos.
When that happens, my heart doubles in size.
I started doing photo fundraisers for Paw Placement six years ago, and each year, they’ve grown and become one of my favorite events of the year.
When Paw Placement won the bid to become Coconino County’s Animal Shelter, I was ecstatic to be able to raise money for this new and beautiful shelter. I’ve always thought a city shelter should be a place where pets could come to find their own forever home, not a place that I witnessed in rural Georgia.
I named the event “Valentails” in honor of my favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day. I think our pets offer us the most unconditional love we’ll ever receive and think a celebration of that love is perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Thank you for being my Valentails!
I’m so happy to announce that we were able to raise $3,505! As my sweet husband would say, “That’s a lot of kibble.”
I was so humbled by all the people who came to support this organization and to share their sweet furry family members with me so I could create some memorable images that I know they’ll always cherish.
Thanks to everyone who supported this event.
It truly was a community effort to pull this event off and I’m honored to have these wonderful businesses support this great cause.