If you’re on Aimee’s blog, odds are you’re either already an animal lover or en route to becoming one, so it probably should not come as any surprise that I, myself, am also slightly obsessed with our four legged friends. Having grown up with dogs, my natural affinity for man’s best friend has always felt a part of my life as long as I can remember. We were the type of family that bought the best dog food, dog insurance, BPA free chew toys, etc. So you can imagine, going to college was tough, as I had to leave my two dogs with my parents (a chocolate lab and a bichon frize, odd couple to say the least). However, as I went to school only a few short miles from my parent’s house, I could truthfully visit them whenever I pleased.
Even tougher though, was moving a bit further away and into an apartment complex that did not allow for me to own any pet other than a goldfish. It was the first time I really wouldn’t see my pups on a regular basis or even be able to adopt one (or a few) of my own.
I was heartbroken.
Now, I’m not normally the type to routinely pick up a newspaper and open to the local news section. But for some reason, on a non-spectacular weekday morning I found myself reading a story about how a local shelter was calling for more volunteers to walk pups, as the number needing to be adopted had gone up drastically as during a down economy, many families were forced to leave their animals in the care of shelters.
“What a great opportunity!” I thought to myself. I immediately signed up for the first training class. Hilariously enough, the volunteer coordinator went around the room of soon-to-be freshly minted volunteers and asked for reasons we were each there. I’m not sure why I was surprised that this was the case, but almost every person said something along the lines of “because I need a dog fix.” I was in heaven; a room of people all in love with dogs as much as me.
Shelter work is always a great combination of heartwarming stories, hilarious animal antics and a great vibe of fun people all around. One of my favorite experiences was the chance to work with Shelby, a dog that was absolutely terrified of men. She would cower in the corner at even the sound of their voice, a heartbreaking story and signs of an abusive history. Another experienced volunteer and I were asked during our shifts to spend extra time with her in an attempt to build up trust. I remember seeing her shaking as I slowly knelt at her kennel. I calmly opened the door and sat as far away as possible. And I just sat for about 20 minutes. Shelby slowly started to get comfortable with me in her kennel, and would make the occasional movement toward me. At this time, I revealed my secret weapon, a bag full of treats. About two handfuls of treats and a good ear scratching session later, Shelby was happy to have me in the kennel.
As weeks went by, we would repeat the same process, but the waiting time got shorter and shorter until finally I was able to walk right into the kennel and she would happily sit right in front of me, eagerly awaiting several treats. She was shortly adopted afterwards into a loving family.
As years have gone by and dogs have come through our shelter to find their forever homes, I have to say, it always remains bittersweet getting to spend time with the pups who find their way through our doors only to see them adopted a short while after. But I have to remind myself that they are joining their new families and will be far better off than they would in the kennel.
Rob Toledo is an adoption advocate, recommends pet insurance for your four legged family members and could talk about dogs for hours on end. He can be reached on twitter @stentontoledo.