In a long and varied career, the most satisfying thing I've ever done may well be working at Shelter on the Hill. Actually, it's more like playing. I spend time with our guests petting, talking, scratching helping to socialize these little lost souls for their eventual adoption into a furever home. Each of these creatures has a story, mostly sad when they come to us. Take Felipe. Someone he trusted dumped him out of a car in a motel parking lot, where he ran around in terror for two days. Fortunately, he did not wander off to wild dangers nearby. The desk clerk phoned Shelter on the Hill. A volunteer went and sat on the hot pavement with the dog, talking softly, gradually scooting closer and closer. Until he calmed and gave in to hope.
As usual, at the Shelter he was examined and bathed, got two square meals a day and a safe comfy bed to calm down. Volunteers (by the way, we always need them) talked to him, fed him treats. He and I became fast friends over time, so that he'd stand up on my arrival. We cuddled and talked and he awarded me licks. Can you imagine seeing happy recognition in his eyes every time? When potential families would come, however, Felipe hid in the corner. So, he languished unadopted for some months. Then, one day a couple saw him bounding around the play yard. wrestling with pals. Within days, Felipe had joined the couple and their other two dogs. He now lives in a grand house on the water in Washington where he has a favorite couch and his own life jacket for boat rides, the result of hours of dedication by numerous Shelter volunteers.
Some people have told me they couldn't work with shelter dogs and cats because they'd want to adopt them all. Kind words I too may have used once. But they're a cop-out. Do you refrain from dropping money in the Salvation Army kettle because the need continues and that bell-ringing Santa will return next year? No one can fix everything. But individually we each can make a small difference. Besides volunteering, any Shelter could use help, including donations of time, select foods, clean towels and blankets, bleach. Even a few dollars to help with vet bills. For your nearest shelter, just Google "pet rescue" with your Zip.
I've had shelter dogs all my life and, yes, I adopted another from SOTH. But I never knew the satisfaction -- actually, joy is a better word -- that comes from sitting with a terrified newly-abandoned soul shaking uncontrollably. In a short time of touching and talking, the trembling stops. Then, the sniffing begins, sensing my dogs and then, of course, the pocket holding treats. Soon, we're scratching and cuddling and slowly over time with the help of many volunteers their trust in people begins to return in preparation for the individual or family that doesn't yet know it is destined to soon fall in love. The best compliment is when they fall asleep there.
With Felipe graduated, now my next favorite guest was Manny. He suddenly appeared in the headlights in the middle of a dirt road in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. The driver stopped and said, "Come here, little man." Hence, the name. Frankly, I do not want to know how Manny lost teeth on the left side of his mouth. What I do want to know is where he best loves scratches (on the side of his jaw). And to see that unleashed happiness when his eyes close and tongue hangs out. I also don't mind the arrival licks. And Manny burying his head under my arm. Stories like this are numerous.
I grew up in farm country around all kinds of animals--dogs, cats, a horse. My father's rule was, You don't get breakfast until each of them has theirs. There's a comforting rhythm to life around pets. Science, in fact, finds people with such companions actually live longer. I think people like dogs and cats because of their unconditional love. The first time I picked up our Shelter Jamie from the groomer, she said, "He's a rescue, isn't he?" I said yes. How can you tell? She said, rescue dogs are always more appreciative of attention. Aren't we all? Doesn't everyone need rescuing at some point? What amazes me every time though is how quickly, despite all their hardships, abuse, disappointments, even pains, the love in these creatures can be teased back out simply by soft touches and voices. And patience.
They teach me a lot. I get back from them so much more peace and happiness than I could ever give. And that's by far the best form of payment for any volunteer.