We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animalsImmanuel Kant
My youngest of four was starting preschool and I was eager to start volunteering with animals again. I had volunteered at an animal shelter back in my college days. I spent my time that gray concrete building washing dishes and laundry, kennels and dogs. When the cleaning was done (rarely), the volunteers could take a dog out on a leash to a small paved area in the back for a quick sniff around. The dank and loud shelter was crowded and the kill rate was high. Animals were simply coming in at a faster rate than they were leaving and resources were limited. Dogs didn’t have long to win the heart of an adopter before their time was up. One time I stumbled upon the room where they were administering the euthanasia; the bodies were piled on one side and the pup most recently injected was stumbling around the room while the next one was on the table, wagging his tail, about to receive his last interaction with humans. But I digress…
I attended the volunteer orientation at my local shelter (the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, MI) in August, a few weeks before preschool started, just to learn more about the opportunities to help. It was clear from the outset that this shelter was much different from the one back in my college town. The euthanasia rate was low, only employed to alleviate suffering of ill animals, or, in rare cases, to put down aggressive dogs for the safety of the shelter staff and volunteers…and the public. The building was newly renovated and brightly lit; the staff was smiling. The shelter is located in a hub of people passionate about animals; the volunteer hours and money donated are impressive. Yet, the fact remains there, as in all shelters around the world, the animals are homeless and there is neverending work to be done.
I was told in the volunteer orientation that 10 hours of non animal-interaction volunteering had to be logged in a new volunteer’s account prior to attending a dog walker training course and getting started handling the animals. Smart tool, I thought, to make sure the volunteers are committed and not just there to pet the pups. We were shown the laundry room, the primary location that new volunteers put in their 10 hours. The laundry machines in animal shelters are among the hardest working anywhere. These massive machines ran from 8am to closing each day and there were carts of dirty laundry awaiting their turn outside the room. Other ways to contribute volunteer hours without animal interactions that I tried in those early days included crate cleaning, poop pickup from the buckets along the walking trails, and administrative paper work.
Those 10 hours flew by in September, and I was eager to attend the dog walking class. I received the clearance email and got online right away to sign up for the next dog walker class (offered periodically)…but the next few were full! Aghast, I signed up for the January dog walker class and kept spending time emptying poop containers and washing crates in my knee high wellies for the next couple weeks. I had thought that the 10 hours of service were my golden ticket to getting back into the dog area and helping make the animals’ time while homeless a little more pleasant, a little less stressful.
While I was stalking the shelter’s online platform for any cancellations in any earlier dog walking classes, something else caught my eye. Foster Orientation…and there were openings! While I couldn’t yet walk shelter animals, I could bring one home! I signed up and attended the class next week. And so my family’s fostering experience began…and our home was soon to be filled with cats and dogs, puppies and kittens, heartbreaking failures and astronomical successes.