Next month marks my fourteenth anniversary as a volunteer at my local humane society. I could write an entire book about all the wonderful dogs and people I have encountered while volunteering there, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m just going to highlight a few of the important lessons I’ve learned in the past fourteen years.
First of all, despite what I have always been taught, sharing is not necessarily a good thing. Yes, it is wonderful when dogs share their love, their affection, and their joy at being taken out for a walk after being cooped up in their kennels for many hours. But the problem is, they don’t stop there. Dogs share everything, (except food) and they share it abundantly and extravagantly. That includes, but is not limited to: their fur, their drool, their unique doggie smell, their poop, and on the rare occasion, their fleas. If they have it, they will share it. But that doesn’t mean you want it.
Also, always keep your mouth closed when you are close to a dog’s face. I learned this the hard way when I was leashing up a German Shepherd that was still getting used to being handled by people, which meant that I always spoke to her in a calm, reassuring voice when I was getting her ready for a walk. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of doing that while I was leaning in to clip my leash to her collar, and to show her gratitude, she suddenly lifted her head and gave my face a quick lick. While my mouth was open. Which meant that for a brief second, I had a dog’s tongue in my mouth.
Trying to be tough, I just shuddered a little and went ahead and took her for a walk. But as I was putting the dog back, I spotted a note on her kennel that said she was being treated for worms. Suddenly worried, and more than a little bit nauseous, I found the nearest vet tech and inquired as to whether if I had just been “french kissed” (as we used to call it back in the day) by a dog with worms, did that mean I could actually get worms? When she stopped laughing (which took quite some time), she said, “probably not.” I have to tell you, that was not the definitive answer I was looking for. And from that moment on, I kept my mouth firmly closed when I was anywhere near a dog’s face.
On a more serious note, I learned that no matter how hard it is to go down to the shelter, day after day and week after week, to walk shelter dogs in all kinds of weather, for however long it takes to get each and every one of them out for a walk, it is ALWAYS worth the effort. No matter how tired I am, no matter how sweaty hot or frozen I am, no matter how much I am smeared with smelly stuff, nothing beats seeing a dog who came to our shelter neglected, abused, or just plain terrified of the shelter environment begin to blossom into the happy, healthy and confident dog they were born to be. And when they are adopted into a loving home, all of us volunteers have the satisfaction of knowing that we were a part of that transformation, which is nothing short of a minor miracle.
Most shelters are in desperate need of more volunteers to help them care for their animals. And while volunteering at an open-admission animal shelter is not for everyone, and certainly not for the faint of heart, I really believe that if you have some time to spare and love animals, you should give it a try. Yes, you will be tested in ways you haven’t dreamed of. But trust me, if you stick around, the rewards will be more than you ever dreamed of as well.