You know those adoption stories where people say they immediately fell in love with their dog? Well, this is not one of those. Toby came into our shelter when I had only been working there about a month. I didn’t know much about dogs at that point but I was sure he would love me right away. It didn’t quite go that way…
The first time I went to visit with him he barked at me like he wanted to eat me. If it wasn’t for my coworker insisting that we were meant to be I would have said forget it right then and there. He clearly didn’t like me and I didn’t feel an instant connection. But I figured I should give it some time. So I kept trying to convince him I wasn’t so terrible. I’m not sure when it happened but all of a sudden he decided he trusted me. And I decided I couldn’t live without him.
I have since realized that Toby is my favorite type of dog. The type where you have to work a little bit for that bond. It isn’t instant but it is so worth it. Seven years later and we are inseparable. He has been through it all with me and I know I couldn’t have done it without him. But most of all I thank him for making me realize I am meant to be helping other dogs just like him.
We do a lot to help animals forget they are in a shelter. Enrichment programs, fostering, you name it, is all to help these animals cope with the hardships of kenneled life. I used to go into work on the weekends and take a dog out of the afternoon. It gave them a break and got me out and about. But after awhile I got lazy. By the time Saturday came around the last place I wanted to be was at work. So this weekend I decided it was time to do it again. I wanted to go hiking and what better company in an outdoor adventure than a dog.
In the morning I picked up a friend and we headed to the Humane Society. We grabbed Enya and off we went. 5 miles, multiple dogs, people and new places to sniff later we had made it back down the mountain. She was happily exhausted. We decided to top off the day with a trip to local eatery where Enya got her own bone that she chomped away on until we were ready to head back to the shelter.
As we hopped on the freeway she tried to climb in my lap but instead settled for resting her head on my chest. My heart melted. That’s when I realized what this day must have meant for her. A day away from all the chaos of shelter life must feel like such a relief. A day where you get all the attention and love you want.
I am extremely fortunate that I get to take my two dogs to work with me every day. I don’t have to spend the day wondering how they are and what they’re doing. Or, of course, the number one question all dog owners have while away from their pooches…do they miss me? The weird thing about me is that I seem to have the opposite problem than most dog owners. As soon as I drive away from work I start wondering about the dogs that I left behind in their kennels.
Questions start firing off in my head. Did I remember to give Spots a fresh blanket? Are Ruth and Rufus warm enough? Did Peanut get her pain medication? It is as if I have the separation anxiety most people have from their own pets but with all of the dogs in our care. It is sometimes so overwhelming that I lose sleep over it. I have restless dreams that consume my brain all night. And when I get to work in the morning I rush to check on everyone I was so concerned about. Most of the time I was worried for no reason. They are all fine and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I guess that is what happens when you are responsible for so many living things. Some days you worry more than others.
What is your greatest fear? Is it spiders? Heights? Now imagine being tethered to it and you can’t get away. Talk about terrifying. That is how I imagine Gardenia felt when I got her out of her kennel today. I was the scariest thing in the world to her and she was connected to me. She fought the leash and did all she could to get away from me. I tried everything I could to calm her down but nothing worked. I felt terrible.
I feel like we often expect a lot out of our pets. We want them all to do exactly as we say, be friendly towards everyone and easily adapt to any environment. But they have fears and anxieties just like we do. I love working with those dogs that need a little extra work and watching them blossom. I love gaining their trust and changing their view of humans. It is sometimes a very long road but we always get there. And when I talk to their new family I get to tell how they started out just like Gardenia but through time, patience and a lot of love they have become the confident and amazing dog of their dreams.
When I started my job we had so many dogs we literally didn’t have enough adoption kennels for them. Dogs were in adoption kennels, boarding kennels, here, there and everywhere. But when our adoption rate went up and our population went down, we began thinking, “How can we help out other shelters?” And so our transfer program was born.
It started pretty local…we would help out those in neighboring counties. It was such an amazing feeling to help free up some kennel space for those that truly needed it. Not long after we started this program my coworker visited a shelter in Fresno. He mentioned that they were inundated with awesome dogs. And so they were added to our rotation as well. Before I knew it rescue coordinators from other shelters were contacting us and asking if we would be willing to pull dogs from them. It was such an amazing feeling! We got to help and in return we got to meet rockstar dogs andmade friends with other animal welfare organizations.
I feel so fortunate to be in the situation in which our population allows us to bring in transfer dogs and that those we are getting them from trust us with their care. Plus that look in their eyes when we first meet does not compare to anything else. It makes my heart full every single time. And most of all, I love sharing those happy adoption pictures with those who cared for them before us.
Recess. Your lunch. Vacations. We all savor those breaks from the normal day to day grind. We can’t be “on” all the time. Sometimes we just need time to be ourselves and relax. And that is exactly what our dogs got when playgroups were integrated into our shelter.
I didn’t really know what to expect when we started. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea. It seemed unsafe, and well, downright scary. How could someone control a group of dogs that were running around off leash? But it didn’t take long for me to see what it really was. Most of the dogs participating had spent years in a kennel without any contact with other dogs. Sometimes they didn’t get out to stretch their legs more than 3 times a week. But soon our dogs started playing and making friends and just being themselves. I saw dogs I have known for months change before my eyes.
And it wasn’t long before I became involved in playgroups also. Soon I realized what they could do not only for the dogs, but for the people in the yard. I started looking forward to work in the morning because I knew I would spend hours surrounded by my favorite things in the whole world…dogs. I laughed more. I saw dogs blossom from shy and scared, to confident and playful. Some dogs that we thought were dog aggressive ended up being the dogs that got along with everyone. But most of all I bonded more with these animals that didn’t have anyone to call their own. And let’s be honest we all need love. We all need to feel that connection with another living being. I am happy to be that for all the amazing animals that come through our shelter.
Most of all, I am so thankful to be able to give our dogs that break they need…to let them be totally themselves.
Do you know that feeling after a concert when your ears are ringing and you feel a little out of sorts? Well, some days are like that for me after work. I get in the car and absorb the silence for a few seconds before I start the engine. It is the small price to pay for working at an animal shelter.
I didn’t always want to work in animal welfare. In fact, I knew very little about it. From the time I was little I always wanted to be a vet. But when vet school seemed too daunting I felt lost…what was I going to do with my life after college? And then I got my job at the Humane Society. I instantly knew it was where I belonged.
The next 7 years have been a series of ups and downs. Tears. Frustration. Heartbreak. But also joy, accomplishment and incomparable love. Even though most days I feel frazzled and exhausted I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
This is collection of memories, experiences, feelings and anything else related to spending 40 hours a week working with animals that, through no fault of their own, have no home.