Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dumbo and The Lesson of the Animal Shelter

Anyone who knew me as a child knows that I have always had a soft spot for animals.  My mom still likes to tell the story of how she took me to see Dumbo when I was five and that I bawled so loud everyone in the theater was staring at us.  Hey, I know it all turns out okay in the end.  My mom forced me to stay and see the happy ending, but it's still a sad, sad movie.  I'm not ashamed.  To this day, I have never watched it again.  Same thing when I was about eight and watching Snoopy Come Home at my cousin's house.  All of a sudden - sobfest.  Losing my first dog as an adult was one of the saddest things I've ever gone through, and I still get choked up if I think about it for very long.  When I got the movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey from Netflix a couple of years ago to have my kids watch it, I ended up choking back tears at the end even though I knew Shadow was still alive!   So when my daughter begged me to volunteer at a local animal shelter this summer, I was hesitant.  I didn't think it would be helpful to the people running the shelter to have a forty four year old woman standing around crying in the lobby.  I was also aware that we already have two dogs and two cats, and I knew I couldn't bring all of the homeless animals home with us.

But my daughter persisted, and I'm so glad she did. 

We had to go through a very basic training one Saturday, and then we were good to go.  I explained to both of my kids that we were not going to bring any of these animals home.  I wanted to make sure they understood that clearly going into this whole process.  While we were there for the training, I ran into one of my former reading class students who was working there for the summer before she went off to college.  She promptly brought out a dog for us to play with.  I think she was trying to find her a home before she left.  I'll admit, I almost caved immediately.

This is sweet Jasmine.  Yes, a pit bull.  One of our own dogs is part pit bull.  Don't believe what you hear.  They are great with kids.  We didn't bring Jasmine home with us, but we did walk her all summer.  We also visited a number of other dogs who have since found homes.

We made several trips to the cat room.  My kids love cats and had a fine time entertaining them with the millions of  toys provided.  Here are some of the things I learned while volunteering at the animal shelter:
1.People bring all kinds of toys/treats/collars/leashes all the time.  That made me feel good about the quality of the lives of the animals living there.
2. There is an abundance of volunteers.  Tons of people are there most of the time.  Sometimes I'm not a huge fan of people, but this strengthened my faith in humanity each time I witnessed it. 
3. They have an incredible staff that fights to find every animal a home. 
4. And last but not least, I realized how satisfying it was when I found out one of those animals found a home via the animal shelter's Facebook page.

So we were going once a week, walking Jasmine, visiting the cat room, and all was well.  Then the kitten room happened.

I had somehow fallen under the misconception during our volunteer training that they didn't let volunteers in the kitten room.  (Maybe it was because I was catching up with my former student and not really listening like I should have been.)  Anyway, my daughter picked up on about our fourth trip there that volunteers could, in fact, go in the kitten room.  Aaaaaand, I was done for.

We ended up bringing this guy home.  So, yes,  I caved.  But in my defense, so did my husband.  (I'm not sure why I think that's in my defense.  It's really not.  But it makes me feel better to say so.) He was Hermes, and although I loved the Greek mythology reference, the name didn't exactly roll off the tongue.   So we renamed him Calvin after the famed cartoon strip by Bill Watterson.  Hobbes would have made more sense, but Calvin seemed to fit his personality better. He's made quite a splash around here. Literally.  Here he is in the community water bowl.

I think that sometimes I make excuses not to get involved in things that I think will make me sad out of self-preservation.  And there were times I felt sad when we left or found myself thinking about a dog that was still there.  But the upside to that was the discovery that the animal shelter was not the sad, hopeless place I thought it would be. So I guess, in the end, it's kind of like Dumbo all over again.  Have you ever noticed that life keeps giving you the same lesson over and over again until you learn it?  I would have left that movie in the middle if my mom hadn't pushed me to stay.  And I never would have seen the happy ending.  I wouldn't have chosen to hang out at the animal shelter with a bunch of homeless animals if my daughter hadn't persisted.   But I never would have seen that  the shelter is a place that brings happiness to lots of people every day