The world might be a perfect place if people like Alissa Umberger grew on trees.
Since adopting her kitty Delilah two years ago from the Humane Society of Central Texas, thirteen-year-old Alissa has actively volunteered at the shelter in a variety of necessary functions.
Upon visiting her first shelter, she didn’t entirely understand why the animals were there: “It was a very overcrowded place, too many animals, but I figured they were all adopted.” Alissa believed the dogs and cats were only crashing for a while until they found permanent homes, like a pet hotel of sorts. Since then, the youngster has witnessed a full reality of animal rescue and shelter life — something most people might never experience in a lifetime, let alone as a junior high student.
“It is extremely heartbreaking at some points, but it is worth it. When you go out there with an animal and bond, it can change you,” Alissa points out. The sage advice she claims helped her cope most: “It’s hard, and sometimes you won’t exactly reach your goals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.”
Most notably, Alissa recalls her experience with Sugar, one of the dogs she loved who failed to find a home.
“Sugar was my pet project, and I haven’t really dealt with it. She was euthanized for no fault of her own. She was [labeled] ‘unsocialized’ and that wasn’t true. I still sob…a lot. But her death has motivated me and many others to try HARDER. We all know it is nearly impossible to save them all, but we shall try anyway.”
She’s done more than try, though. That’s for sure. After meeting Sasha, a dog who was returned multiple times to the shelter for having anxiety issues, Alissa began taking pictures and posting her animal photography last year with the goal of attracting more attention for her new friend.
“Sasha would have to be the best success story out there,” Alissa explained. “After being returned 4 times for her anxiety issues, Sasha was on death row. It was the sad reality of an ‘owner surrender.’ I became attatched to Sasha. I cried a lot knowing at any moment she could be killed. BUT after sharing a photo on the internet, SASHA MADE IT HOME. I haven’t seen her since, but we are planning a visit soon. She now has a sister, and they both suffer from anxiety issues.”
Grab a Kleenex. This video our young rescuer created is amongst the sweetest of things I’ve watched in a long while:
With more than 2,000 Facebook fans (go “like” her, guys), our young heroine has definitely cultivated an audience of supporters as well as a legitimate forum for addressing topics like adoption (as an alternative to purchasing) and breed-specific legislation — something she’d passionately like to see end.
“I am against BSL. I hate it. I have only met 2 aggressive pit bulls, and they had been used for FIGHTING. I can’t stand any animal being euthanized because of breed. If so many more people would quit listening to [discussion about] their ‘bad reputation’ and look at the bright side of these breeds, [those people would learn] they are fantastic animals. They are just the same as a lab or weenie dog. I think the only thing we can do to stop BSL is to educate. There is a lot to teach and so little people.”
Preach it from your hilltop, Alissa.
The work doesn’t end when Alissa is finished editing her photos and volunteering her days bathing, socializing, and cuddling homeless animals. She and her family currently care for their foster, Carly, who was dumped at a house and doomed to live in a facility with an 83% kill rate. Nice of Alissa and her clan to step in and offer refuge.
“My pets are CRAZY. I have 3 dogs and 2 cats. And the foster [Carly]. She is actually sitting with me RIGHT now. Then there are Sniffles & Peachie. Sniffles thinks he can catch birds, but he is a little Chihuahua. He can’t. LOL. And there is CJ. He is a great dog, who originally came to us as a family dog, but turned into my ‘son’. We adopted him from a local rescue almost 4 years ago. Then there are our kitties. Delilah was adopted on July 31st, 2010, from the Humane Society of Central Texas, and Shrek was born as a feral kitten who was going to be surrendered to the Humane Society, but now he is my little baby. Shrek is still a kitten. Then there are our 2 fish…who don’t do much.”
In ten years, Alissa hopes to be finishing college at Baylor University. We’ll see more of her, though, because she’d like to become a professional photographer “fostering/rescuing dogs across the country.” Until then, she believes rescue groups can reach a wider public response through networking, TV ads, YouTube videos, billboards, and more adoption events.
“It’s a big idea, but it CAN get done,” she says.
If I had fifty bazillion gold stars, I’d give them all to Alissa Umberger’s efforts. It’s been a true honor communicating with this talented, intelligent, insert-all-the-positive-adjectives-here, young lady, and I hope you will all spend a moment thanking her for the excellent work she does for our Texan communities.
Alissa, you’re a heroine if I’ve ever seen one. Very best wishes to you, and I look forward immensely to seeing your calling continue to unfold.
For more about Alissa and her photography, visit here. Alissa’s Facebook rescue page is here. To view the animals Alissa assists in rescuing, who are available for adoption, visit the Humane Society of Central Texas and Fuzzy Friends Rescue.
All photos and media used with the permission of Alissa Umberger.
Many thanks to Monica Valdez for pointing me toward this extraordinary, animal advocate’s mission.