This was the first column I wrote for the local paper on 3.4.12. Since it provides the best foundation for how I began volunteering and finally found my purpose (and passion) I thought it would be best to begin my Blog with the same. It’s still one of my favorite memories and stories to share.
For years I was one of those that said “I love animals too much to volunteer in an animal shelter.” Honestly, I hadn’t even tried but the idea of witnessing animals caged would certainly be too much to endure. Even with Oprah telling me that I needed to find my passion, which I didn’t know I was supposed to have, I intentionally avoided the Shelter for years by volunteering for other worthy causes. But none ever captured my attention or my heart. So when I eventually mustered the courage to give it a try, I would do so with rules that would protect me from getting too emotionally involved.
Rule #1: Only walk the first dog in the first kennel. Thus allowing me to avoid the pleading eyes of all the others. Rush in, grab the first dog and get out.
Rule #2: Never ask about the dog’s past or future. Especially what became of them when I would no longer find them in that first kennel.
And so I ventured in.
On that fateful day the first kennel was occupied by a large Lab named “Trooper”. Large only because he was tall, as “Trooper” was nothing more than skin stretched over bones. It was so pitiful and just what I was afraid of. Yet, he seemed happy. I couldn’t turn away as his tail gleefully beat the sides of his kennel like a drum and his big open mouth grin welcomed me. He was thrilled to follow me out for our first walk, which was no surprise. But I was astonished when he seemed equally happy to lead me back to the Shelter door and then to his kennel. He trotted in as if he was happy to be home. This was NOT what I expected.
That’s when I broke Rule #2. I had to know more about this dog. I would learn that a State Trooper (hence his name) had found him abandoned outside of a disserted trailer chained to a log. No food. No water. No shelter. Surviving, just barely and probably not for long, by eating bark from the log to which he was tethered. Surely had the State Trooper not found him, he would have died there. Slowly and painfully.
Thanks to that State Trooper and the Shelter’s care, “Trooper” was alive and well and despite how he looked, thriving. They said he’d already put on five pounds. For “Trooper”, the Shelter surely was a blessing. I had always assumed that an animal’s arrival at a shelter was the worst that could happen to them. Yet the Shelter was probably the best place “Trooper” had ever been. And while our Shelter would not be the best place he would ever be, as he’d eventually find a family who would love and adore him, it was a far cry from where’d he’d been.
That day and that dear dog changed not only my perspective but my life. First I threw all my rules away. Second, where I once saw shelters as the worst case scenario for any animal, I realized they truly are a refuge from neglect and abuse. I’ve since witnessed time and time again when it was indeed life-saving. No longer viewing the animals behind those cage doors as unfortunate, I realize that while their futures may be unknown, their lives in our Shelter will be ones filled with love and compassion.
I’ve now found my passion and purpose in life and have never been happier! And I think of “Trooper” and tell his story often. I see him in many of the animals that pass through our doors and know that it may not be the best place they will ever be, but that it is a safe haven for those in need. And as I walk through the kennels and look into the faces of each animal I’m no longer afraid of loving them too much. Only of not loving them enough.