Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Wonderful, Horrible Day at the Animal Shelter

Today, my photography partner Brandi wasn't able to make it to the shelter, so I decided to go it alone. Each week, we take photos of the dogs at Lied Shelter for the Animal Foundation's Web site to, hopefully, help get them adopted.

As I roamed the bungalows today, I was mostly looking for a puppy to cuddle. We get to pretend we're helping socialize them, but puppies are adopted easily, so it's pretty much just us getting playtime and love.

I passed by a cowering pit bull to pet a sweet black lab puppy. As I was interacting with the lab, the pit bull wouldn't make eye contact and kept her head down. She was shaking. Most timid dogs move to the back of the cage, but this girl stayed up front. Wasn't sure what that meant, but she seemed to have no interest in me. And she growled. This doesn't bode well for dogs at the shelter.

It turns out the pit bull's name was Duchess. I don't like learning the names of the dogs we interact with. Because it's an animal shelter, and sometimes bad things happen. Duchess was so skittish and jumped at the slightest sound.

I decided to just hang out. I pet the lab with one hand, and talked to Duchess for what must have been an hour. Little progress, but her head lifted up after awhile. It was something. I tried to touch her foot at one point, but she wasn't having any of it. Or so I thought.

When dogs at the shelter are timid, you tend to be careful, if you like keeping all your fingers.

Eventually, a young woman came in with a friend, and asked if she could sit down, too. This happens all the time. Dogs people would normally walk right by suddenly become more interesting if someone else is interested in the dog. Weird.

It took awhile, but eventually this woman was able to pet Duchess through the bars of her cage. I had wanted to take her out into the play area, but was nervous about it (pit bulls are really strong, and any dog that seems very scared can be unpredictable as they're walked along the front of all the other caged dogs).

I grabbed another volunteer to help bring Duchess out. She thought it was funny that I was such a big baby. I can't disagree.

I worry when I take dogs out that they'll lose it with all the dogs barking and try and bite. I don't want to get bit and don't want anyone else getting bit, of course. That's why I let Brandi do all the wrangling for our photography sessions.

So, we get Duchess out into the playpen, and what happened next happens so often, it's amazing. She took 5-10 minutes to smell everything, then just absolutely transformed into an entirely different dog. She was so loving and playful. Whip-smart. Docile, with no aggression whatsoever toward children or other people or other dogs. Not a single bark the entire time we played. I think this dog thoroughly understands the entire English language.

And we played a long, long time. Probably for an hour. The girl who pet her agonized over whether to adopt her, but her companion was reluctant.

After awhile, another family began to circle the enclosure. (Like I said, once people see interest in a dog, they become interested, too. It's sort of the same thing with people, come to think of it.) They'd seen Duchess in her cage and remarked about how dramatically different she was outside her cage. I'm betting one of these folks will be back to adopt Duchess, but there were no takers as the shelter closed for the evening.

The horrible part of the day was taking Duchess back to her cage. She clung to me, and as I took her leash off, she grabbed it and pulled, as if she was making one last desperate attempt to stay with me.

While heartbreaking in some ways, I'm confident the time we spent outside her cage has changed her view of being in it, and she won't be so fearful now, because she realizes people aren't always abusive or poking and prodding her with medical instruments. She was reminded what it's like to be be out with people in the sun, playing and chasing birds. She is just the sweetest, smartest dog, and I almost walked right by.

As I left her bungalow, I sort of lost it. There's a reason I don't do this alone, and there's a reason I don't learn their names. I was glad it was the end of the day and none of the other staff or volunteers were around to see me blubbering like an idiot.

There are moments when you're volunteering that you're overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the dog overpopulation problem, and you realize you can't help everyone. A phrase kept repeating in my mind, "There are just so many." So many sweet, loving animals don't make it. There's simply no way to deal with the tidal wave of abandoned, abused dogs.

So, as a volunteer, you decide to help who you can help, and try to put the realities of the problem out of your mind. Sometimes it creeps in, and that's when the blubbering starts.

After my therapeutic cry, I left unable to shake that sense of overwhelm. The sadness of there being untold others very much like Duchess. Animals for whom a few minutes of love and trust make all the difference in the world.

Just please find a home, girl. So I can stop sitting here, typing furiously and crying my eyes out again. Because trust me, blubbering is not a good look for me.

There are just so many.


Kristin said...

You're a good man, Scott Roeben. I think this has been great for you, and the animals too...

MaryAnne Beaman said...

I think blubbering looks good on you. :)