People often ask me how I manage to cope with volunteering at a large, open-admission animal shelter. “Isn’t it just too depressing?” they ask. “Don’t you want to take them all home? And how can you stand knowing that not all of them get adopted?”
I’m no fool. (I may not be overly bright, but I really don’t think I’m a fool.) I’m a middle-aged woman with declining physical strength and limited financial resources, so I’m well aware that I won’t be able to single-handedly save all the dogs that wind up at the shelter. Beyond that, I know I won’t be able to even make a dent in the huge problems that come from pet overpopulation, or animal abuse and neglect. There are too many people willing to take out their frustration and anger on animals, and even more people who thoughtlessly discard pets who have become inconvenient just like so much garbage. Sadly, people who work or volunteer at animal shelters become far too familiar with the darker side of human nature.
What I have learned to do is concentrate on what I can fix. I can take a shelter dog out of its run for a nice walk, giving it a chance to potty outside of its run, get some fresh air and sunshine, and, if needed, a chance to learn some basic manners to make it more adoptable. I can show a dog who came to the shelter knowing only abuse or neglect from humans that people can also be kind and loving. I can make a dog’s stay at the shelter less stressful, and when it does get adopted, I can feel a little satisfaction in knowing that I was a small part of that process.
It’s partly a “one dog at a time” philosophy that keeps me going. I try to concentrate on that fact that I am helping this dog, right now, and believe me, the dog lets me know it appreciates my effort. Most dogs like to go for walks, but shelter dogs absolutely LOVE to go for walks, and they don’t try to hide their enthusiasm. But what really makes it possible for me to keep heading down to the shelter, even on the days when I find it a bit too overwhelming and depressing, is the fact that I’m not alone.
Sure, I can take pride in knowing that, on my own, I am able to walk and help a small number of shelter dogs. But the good news is that there are lots of other volunteers who are doing the exact same thing. I’m just one of a large number of people who are willing to spend their time helping shelter dogs. And when enough of us show up on the same morning, we can get all the dogs on the adoption floor out for a walk (with all the accompanying benefits), even when we’re full and there are over 70 of them. By working together and supporting each other, we are able to help a whole lot of shelter dogs, each and every day.
So whenever I find myself getting discouraged by the huge number of unwanted, abused or neglected dogs that need help, I try to remind myself that what is really important is that I simply continue to chip away at the problem by doing what I can, when I can. As an individual, all I can ever do is give my best effort. But I am always so very thankful for all the other individuals who are also giving their personal best, by doing what they can, when they can. Because together, we manage to accomplish amazing things.