For years I’ve help conduct our shelter’s training sessions for new volunteers and yet, I still find them challenging. While I have no problem talking about our shelter, our procedures and the animals, I do find it challenging to find ways to get across to people how beneficial it is to the animals and how rewarding and fun it can be. It’s the reaching people and inspiring them to really get involved that’s problematic.
But I’m determined because the more active volunteers we have the more attention our animals receive. And that’s so beneficial for their well-being. But I also want others to feel how I feel. How much better your life can be through giving of yourself to something you care about. Sounds sappy but it is SO true!
So I was incredibly grateful when during our recent training session, I had a very engaged group. Most seemed interested and were actively participating. Normally I’m just happy if everyone stays awake especially since I once had someone doze off on me. Not a glowing endorsement for my resume.
But in this class there was one new volunteer sitting up front, noticeably eager to learn, and seemingly taking in every word. Anna Earl was not only awake but asked relevant questions and was quick with her hand in the air in response mine. This was going to be fun!
Anna was clearly excited to be there and while new to volunteering in our shelter, our shelter certainly wasn’t new to Anna. At the conclusion of the tour she asked me “where’s Henry.” The fact that I wasn’t sure who or where Henry was, was only slightly embarrassing. Apparently Anna had been watching our website and knew many of our animals better than I. Stumbling only slightly (I think) I did confirm Henry’s identity and location. I’m over 50 folks and can’t remember what I wore yesterday. Can I be expected to know every one of the over 4000 animals we get each year? I digress and defend.
During the dog handling portion of the orientation, Anna listened intently as I described watching a dog’s body language for signs of their emotional state. Her passion was obvious and enthusiasm so tangible that I couldn’t help but feel that she was a promising long term volunteer. I love sessions like this one!
As Angel, my dog handling visual aid approached strangers slightly cautiously with her head low and tail limp, Anna noted readily the signs of Angel’s anxiety as I had described them to the group just minutes earlier. When Angel returned to my side with a relaxed wagging tail, my new protégé again recognized her signal for happy and relaxed. And when Angel’s ear pricked forward and her tail stood stiffly upright as she sniffed the cats inside the lobby cage, Anna knew too that Angel was likely not a friend to cats. Even the kittens in the next cage knew the same and told us so with puffy tails and arched backs.
Several others in the group were also getting it and responding with enthusiasm! I was thrilled! At times I wonder at the end of such sessions, whether or not I’ll ever see any of these people again. But I left that evening certain that many from this group would be back. Certainly Anna!
So when two days later I saw on Facebook that Anna had been back over the weekend and had helped a dog named “Ken Tucky” find a home, I was even more elated. First “Ken Tucky” had been with us for months so that alone was worthy of celebration. But I also was certain that Anna had felt the same delight and satisfaction of helping an animal find a home that I had experienced more than ten years ago when I first began volunteering.
The amazing thing is that what had taken me more 40 years to learn, Anna Earl had learned in far less. You see, Anna Earl is only 7 years old.
Her mother, Michelle, admitted that while she felt it would be too sad to be in the shelter, Anna had persistently pushed her to volunteer until Michelle relented. To quote Michelle “Anna is wise beyond her years and has a heart of gold.” Michelle went on to admit that Anna had been right to push her into volunteering, as she too loved it already!
How could she not? As Anna said, after helping Ken Tucky find his forever home, “You know Mom it feels good to help save a life.”
Wise beyond her years is right.