After several long weeks of waiting, yesterday marked my first shift at the Seattle/King County Humane Society.
We didn’t have pets when I was a kid. Or rather, we had a dog when I was born, and it quickly grew apparent that it did not appreciate it’s new status as second fiddle to a newborn, and was thus given away. I always wanted pet, but my severe allergies prevented that from happening, and for that matter solidified my nerd status, along with glasses, braces, a bad perm, and my inherited height.
When I first met Joel, I was thrilled to learn he had a dog. In fact, some of our first communication centered around Nikki, our 10(?)-year-old Great Pyrenees. She’s a fierce protector and wildly loveable. The first time Mom came to visit after Joel and I got engaged, we caught her on the living room floor, spooning with Nikki and saying, “you’re my first grandbaby, aren’t you?”
While I also love Nikki, I knew she’d always be Joel’s dog, and I wanted a puppy of my own. I also wanted something that could sit in my lap. Nikki’s head alone takes up that much space. Joel and I started debating back and forth. I wanted a Yorkie; they were too yippie. I wanted a miniature poodle; they were too girlie. I wanted a shih tzu; they were too “old lady”. Dog after dog got vetoed, and Joel’s suggestions never seemed cuddly enough. He recommended a beagle, but every beagle I’d ever met was huge, and definitely not of the size that you could carry one around in a purse, which was one of my requirements. (Note: I do NOT want to carry a dog around in my purse. I am not one of those girls. I just want to know that it could be done should the need arise.)
Then one day, the perfect solution landed in our laps. A friend of mine who had left Seattle and moved home to Ohio sent out a mass email advertising her latest litter of Pocket Beagles. I showed Joel a few pictures, and we were both hooked. We still had a few months before we moved out of my apartment and into Joel’s house, and I nearly stalked my friend trying to get updates on the puppies. Bentley finally arrived in June, and since then he’s been at my side – and under my feet, and in my lap, and crawling all over my back. While there have been a few moments of irritation, and a few threats made to throw him out the window, I have learned that my patience for all the things that come with having a puppy are surprisingly high. This is probably due in part to the fact that Joel is the one who gets up at 7am and lets both the dogs out, but I find that I tolerate things like dog poop, torn up toilet paper rolls, and random howling quite well, confirming what I always knew, deep down inside.
I am a dog person.
I could easily share here on how Bentley has kept me from falling into depression as I transitioned out of my old job and into this new one, but I think I’ve gone down that road before. Besides, that’s not the point of this chapter. The point is to tell you what I contributed yesterday. I contributed 3 hours of my time to the Humane Society.
I know that doesn’t seem like a contribution to our household, and maybe it’s not. I’ve decided, though, that if you are a person who is able to, you should be volunteering somewhere. As an RLC, there were times I could barely find the time to shower, much less give my little bit of free time to someone other than the students I was living with. In some ways, my entire life was one big volunteer position. But now, as a “housewife,” I find that I often have more time on my hands than I really know what to do with, and as such I fall into the category of “able”.
I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the idea, and I’m not sure what made me pick the Humane Society. I worked for the Boys and Girls Club in Fayetteville for years before I moved to Seattle, so I considered that route, but something about the Humane Society felt better. Maybe because it was new, maybe because of my newly-discovered status as “dog person”, maybe because it was right across the street from Joel’s office. Whatever it was, it fell into place quickly, and ever since working through the necessary classes I’ve found myself waiting eagerly for my first shift.
The Humane Society has several different areas where they use volunteers. In fact, it seems like all of their departments are fullof volunteers. Admissions, adoptions, cat kennels, dog kennels, MaxMobile, special events, dog boarding, dog training…I’m not getting all the labels right, but from what I’ve gathered, if they do it, you can help them. And you don’t have to commit to a weekly shift. If you’ve got one free weekend a month you could join up with the MaxMobile folks and take adoptable pets to special events around Seattle. Or if you want to set your own schedule, you can pick up food from the Humane Society and deliver it to homebound adults who, for whatever reason, can’t supply their pet with food. Or if you have a pet that can handle itself around others (unlike mine), you can take it on hospital visits. Or if you have old dog collars and cat kennels laying around your house, they could use your donation. When I worked at the Boys and Girls Club, we always had people volunteering, and we never knew what to do with them. This group has got it down to a science.
So that’s my plug for the Humane Society.
Surprisingly, I chose to work in the dog kennels. Yesterday I helped feed around 75 dogs, changed water, folded towels and blankets, and helped old down a 1-year-old Great Pyrenees while he got a bath. It was wonderful. Yesterday alone I learned more about dogs than I have in the last 3 months of dog ownership, and I feel like it’s going to be fodder for many, many entertaining blog posts in the future.
The thing I wanted to write about today, though, has less to do with the pets and more to do with the people. There are four dog kennel areas at the Humane Society, and only one of them holds dogs that are up for adoption. The rest of the dogs are under monitoring for behavioral issues, malnutrition, or are in the boarding area and actually belong to someone. Right now there are several American Eskimo dogs from the Kennewick puppy mill who would break your heart. Several of them are still visibly distressed, and spend all day hiding under their dog beds. Three of the kennels have to be covered so the presence of people walking by all day won’t send the dogs over the edge.
The staffers at the Humane Society are wonderful. They’re friendly, caring, and efficient. But their jobs are hard. Imagine working all day with people, children even, that have been abandoned or abused and haven’t eaten and are all kinds of sick and scared. I know, dogs aren’t people, but if you’re a dog person, or if you’ve ever loved a dog, then this can be incredibly draining. The atmosphere behind the scenes can be tense. Not in a negative way; people aren’t back there snapping at each other. But there is a lot do to, and a lot to keep track of, and at times I imagine a lot of sadness.
The kennel area that holds the dogs that are up for adoption is definitely the quietest, happiest hallway. I walked through there several times, and each time there were several people peering through the glass doors, hoping to find their new best friend. I’m not sure I fully noticed the tension in the back of the kennels until I saw the utter joy on the faces of the folks who were about to adopt a dog. Their expressions reminded me of people standing outside of the newborn nursery at the hospital, except these people get to pick which baby they’re going to take home. I wanted to sit there and talk to them, find out what they were looking for, talk to them about which pooch they had fallen in love with.
Who knows how the whole thing will make me feel over time. Maybe the magic will wear off, and maybe the barking will start to get to me. For now, though, that adoption hallway is my new happy place.