The following is an actual true story that happened to me months ago when I thought I wanted to volunteer at the animal shelter. And when I say months, I mean the snow was just starting to fall. It was a strange experience and still to this day I keep receiving emails about the volunteer events. I am too afraid to email them back and admit I am the most lousy volunteer they in fact ever had.
I set out making the drive to the animal shelter. I could hardly contain my excitement as I pulled up to the building. I imagined all the cute, cuddly creatures that needed my love. I decided days before that I should spend some of my free time doing service. I immediately thought of volunteering at the local animal shelter. After all, I love animals, so why not spend some time caring for creatures that do not have a home? So I looked into it more, and discovered that I needed to fill out paperwork and attend a meeting, and then I could begin my service hours.
As I walked through the door, I was greeted by a reality quite different from all that I'd imagined. The other volunteers were gathered around a table. At the head of the table was the lady I guessed was in charge. She had huge black hair, leathered skin, and a tacky colored lipstick. She had a warm smile though, which calmed my nerves slightly. I introduced myself and handed her my paperwork. I then took a seat in between two odd characters.
The man to my left was very tall, well over 6 feet. His hair was long and slicked back from his face. It was a light brown and streaked with grey. He also looked like he was attempting to grow a beard. He nodded his head at me in a sign of greeting, his smile was a bit overbearingly friendly.
To my right sat a small lady, probably in her fifties. She had an ugly colored crocheted hat pulled over her frizzy hair. She wore a long trench coat that seemed to drown her little body and she wore thick glasses that covered most of her nervous face.
I pulled my gloves off my hands and shoved them inside my purse. I had no idea what to expect next.
The lady in charge stood up and began giving her spill about the animal shelter. She went on for what seemed like hours. I found myself blocking out most of what she was rambling on about.
Until she said something along the lines of,
"We never tell the animals they are living in cages or kennels. You must refer to them as their suites. We want the animals to feel welcomed at their temporary home."
First of all, that is a lie. How dare they ask me as an innocent volunteer to lie to the animals. Suites have huge beds, prime for bed jumping, and covered with pillows. Suites have a mini fridge. Suites have room service.
Second of all, saying that to an animal is just plain weird. I am sure the dog doesn't care if I call its home a suite or a cage. All the same, it is still about ten feet long and made out of metal. And all the same, the dog still just wants to go chase birds and smell things.
After the peculiar speech finally came to an end, we filed out of the room and followed Big Hair for a tour of the place. We first entered the cat room. The guy with the creepily friendly smile I sat next to started going berserk about the cats. He began poking his fingers through the cages (I mean, suites) and talking to the cat like it was a little baby. The cat just lazily peered at the guy like he was an idiot.
"You need to put hand sanitizer on, sir, before you touch the cats."
That was Big Hair talking, obviously.
"We don't want you to give them any of your germs and make them sick."
The guy did as he was told and continued losing his mind over the cats. He then told us all about his pets at home. He went on about how he had 8 cats, 3 dogs, 2 iguanas, 4 hamsters, 1 ferret, 6 mice, 7 fish, 2 goats, and who knows what else. . .but he failed to tell us he had a wife. I came to find out that most of the older volunteers there were not married. Most seemed to be anti-social or just plain awkward in social situations. There were two other college kids there. A boy and a girl. They were in a relationship and they wanted to take care of dogs together. I have a feeling she was trying to get him out and away from his Halo and Zelda games.
That is when I realized why some people have such a deep and almost disgusting love for animals. Animals won't judge you. Your dog isn't going to go around the neighborhood and talk bad about you behind your back. Big Hair's cat will never tell her that she uses way too much hairspray. If you feed a pet and brush its fur, it most likely will love you and be loyal to you. People are not so easy to deal with. You can't just feed a friend and brush their hair and expect them to stay by your side. Heck, sometimes you might devote all your time, energy, and love on a person and they will still choose to betray you and leave you broken.
Animals don't disappoint. People do.
I felt my heart break, oddly enough, thinking about these people I was standing in the midst of and how lonely they all were. How key important relationships were missing from their lives so they tried to fill it with the presence of an animal. Because their animal would not judge them, leave them, disappoint them.
I felt like a horrible person. Like a harsh and judgemental human being.
After signing our names on the board for which days we would come in to work, we walked into the dog room, which was a huge cement garage. There were so many dogs barking at once. It was a giant symphony of dog barking. It echoed throughout the huge room and I felt my ears ringing. I didn't like it. I wanted out.
We walked outside. A horrible odor reached my nostrils. I looked down to see my shoe covered in dog poop. I tried to rub it off in the grass the best I could. I wanted to gag. It had to be the worst smelling dog poop ever. I wanted to leave this horrible place. I wanted to drive away and return to my world where I didn't imagine people being sad and alone, and where dog suites were called dog kennels.
So I did. I walked quickly to my van, drove away, and didn't look back.
I never went back in for the days I signed up to work.
I have still never gone back. Nor do I plan to.
I just couldn't handle volunteering at a place where I felt like some of the other volunteers needed more love than the animals. And I couldn't handle asking a dog if he'd like to go back into his suite without laughing.