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“I just don’t know. I’m afraid it’ll be too sad,” I say.
“I know! I’m afraid I’ll be trying to bring all the dogs home,” my friend replies.
I remember that conversation well. A fellow dog-loving friend and I were contemplating volunteering at a local shelter. I’d just reduced my work week, and I wanted to volunteer some of my newfound time. But where? I’ve always loved dogs, so I thought a shelter would be the perfect place...except for the fact that I imagined I’d be crying every time I left.
But then I thought, what’s sadder: the dogs getting some love from a (possibly weepy) volunteer, or the dogs missing out on that love because I was too chicken to go there? The answer seemed obvious, so I signed up for orientation.
I’ve been going almost every Monday for coming up on 10 years now. And you know what? I’ve never cried there once.
Some Mondays, I admit, I don’t feel like going--I’m busy, or I’m cranky, or it’s just too darn hot. But in the end, I go. And I’m always glad I did. It’s great to hang out with the pups for an afternoon. My various “duties” include playing with the dogs in the fields (sometimes we have play dates with eight to 10 dogs all racing around together, or some dogs play in the kiddie pools when the weather is warm), taking dogs for walks around the grounds, and hanging out with the puppies. The puppies that aren’t fully vaccinated yet don’t get to go out, so we visit them in their kennels. Happily the kennels are big enough for a wee game of fetch or tug, or they’re perfect for just having a cuddle. In the winter, part of the concrete floor is heated, so it’s nice to sit on the ground and cuddle a puppy. (Charles M. Schulz was right: happiness is a warm puppy.) It’s fun for me that once a week I can literally say, “I’ve gone to the dogs.”
Sure there are some sad parts, for instance when a dog is surrendered by its owner. But even then, I find the bright side. After all, if the dog wasn’t a good fit for the family, isn’t she better off at the shelter where she’ll have a chance to find the perfect fit? My philosophy is: it’s better for a dog to be at the shelter for a while and ultimately end up with the right family than to live out a sad, lonely existence because the family doesn’t have enough time or love for her.
Sometimes it takes a long time to find that “right family.” One sweet pup was there with us for two years. He was playful and loving with a copper-colored coat and ridiculously long legs. He was great at playing by himself, tossing a toy around and chasing after it, but sometimes he’d want me to pay more attention to him. I’d be sitting in a chair in the shade, and he’d walk right under my legs, raising my feet up off the ground because he was so tall. Then he’d stand there with my legs hanging over him while I rubbed his neck and told him what a good boy he was. I loved that sweet boy. But he had some issues with strangers, so he needed to find just the right home--and that took time. I suppose some might think it’s sad that he was in a shelter for so long, but I know the staff and volunteers gave him a lot of love, and he was safe and happy until his forever home came along. And that’s not sad; that’s wonderful.
Jackie Bouchard is the USA Today bestselling author of House Trained. She writes what she calls Fido-friendly fiction: humorous and heartwarming stories about women and the dogs that profoundly impact their lives. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter @JackieBouchard and her website.