I follow a lot of blogs and read more but Susie’s Senior Dogs has rapidly become a real favorite. First there is Susie, a face that launched a blog to help find aging dogs their forever homes. As many people know, we adopted a then-thirteen year old rescued West Highland Terrier about 18 months ago and readily attest to the love and joy you can give and receive from these ‘second chance’ dogs.
However this isn’t just about SSD but a post by a reader of the blog who volunteers at a high-intake shelter in NYC. What she has to say resonated with me on many levels: it saddened me, it angered me, it inspired me, and on a deeper level heightened my belief that each of us has the key to do something for someone else. What you are about to read is the full article with a short introduction from Erin at SSD, all in quotes and italicized. You too may feel the many emotions I felt and that is a good thing. I’ve added a few comments and thought of my own at the end.
“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Volunteers are heroes. Many volunteers put in full-time hours, yet they are still considered “volunteers” as their time is free and they do not get paid. They do it because they want to do it. The following story is from a volunteer at a high-intake city shelter. To avoid harsh comments and to keep our focus on the importance of volunteering rather than the politics of the shelter system, we have both decided to keep her story anonymous. An important difference to be aware of between a public, open admission shelter and a private “no-kill” shelter is that the public shelter is required to take in every animal (strays, owner surrenders, etc.) no matter what and a private “no kill” shelter has the option to turn animals away if they are too full. No-kill shelters may not be euthanizing animals, but they have the option to house homeless animals for however long it takes them to find a home. A public city shelter that has, say, only 50 kennels yet hundreds of animals pouring in each week, does not have the option to say “no” in the situation. The problem is deeper than just the shelter. This amazingly dedicated volunteer wrote,
“Hi, my name is [.....] and I work as a full time advertising sales executive. I am married to the love of my life and am a proud mama to our rescue dog. I am also a dedicated volunteer at a high kill inner city shelter. The girl pictured is my best friend, who like a lot of people, comes from a family who always bought their dogs and had never considered adoption until she learned about how many great dogs there are in shelters. When Susie recently asked me to share my thoughts on volunteering, she asked that I open up about the good, the bad, and the ugly…but, most importantly, what keeps me going. I can attest that volunteering at an open admission, inner city shelter takes its toll. The first thing I usually notice is the smell, which lingers in your nose long after you’ve left the shelter. Then there’s the noise – the harrowing sounds of dogs begging, crying, and pleading for help.
Then there’s 12PM: The time everyday at which dogs you’ve fallen in love with are euthanized because they got sick with kennel cough, an all too common but highly treatable doggie cold. I’m not going to say that volunteering at a place like this is easy. Because it’s not. It keeps me up at night and haunts me during the day. But what other choice do I have? The emotions of volunteering at a place like this pale in comparison to the pain that would ensue if I looked the other way. I simply cannot and will not pretend that these dogs don’t need me. And that is precisely what keeps me going back. The dogs. It will always be about the dogs.
The 6 month old puppy who was surrendered because he has too much energy. The 8 year old family dog who is trembling in my arms after her devastated owners were forced to give her up because of housing bans. The 6 year old ‘throw away mama’ who was used solely as a breeding machine her entire life. The dogs who spend 23 hours a day locked inside small kennels with only their confused and frantic thoughts. To help demystify what volunteering at a high-kill shelter is like (note that all experiences vary and there are hundreds of no-kill rescues who also need help), I’ll share exactly what I do at the shelter. I walk dogs, clean their kennels, and make sure they have fresh water. For 15 minutes, the duration of each individual walk, I give my heart and sole and undivided attention to the dog in my care. I’ve been told that dogs live in the moment, so I like to think that the smell of fresh grass invigorates [Ryan]. I imagine that the warm sun on [Buddy's] back reminds him that there is good in life. And I’m hopeful that the sights and sounds of people laughing in the park allow [Mabel] to forget – even if just for 15 minutes – that she is a homeless animal in a notorious high kill shelter.
With all that said, I guarantee that wherever you live, there is also a shelter or rescue in need. Go walk dogs. Offer to do laundry (shelters & rescues have mountains of dirty laundry). Clean kennels. Fill up water bowls. Fundraise. Advocate. If you have been thinking about volunteering, there is no better time than right now. Everyone has it in them to make a difference; all it takes is a desire to help.
‘I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I can not do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’ In addition to the above quote, my other favorite one that keeps me going is as follows: ‘If not me, then who? If not now, then when?'”
It';s me, Pep, again. Here are some of my thoughts: if you are angry, advocate; if you feel challenged, accept it; if you are inspired, do one thing to make somone’s life better – you don’t have to travel to disaster areas unless you can, you can hold out your hand to someone in need or someone saddened by life; you can lend a hand to someone who needs to talk. It only takes 15 minutes.
I have long believed that the things we say and do make an impact – one we may never know about. You may do some small kind gesture that is remembered forever or that impacts a person or family. This is the message I take from this beautiful. compassionate woman. Just do something.
The I Am Only One quote, widely associated with Helen Keller ( who said something similar) is attributed to American author, Edward Everett Hale. If Not Me attributed to many people is associated to Hillel the Elder and more recently to Mikhail Gorbachev. My thanks to Susie Senior Dogs and Erin for her kind permission to use this article.