I’ve had a love of animals since I was a child. As a toddler, I have vague memories of our Pekingese named Gizmo. In elementary school, I had a cocker spaniel named Honey Bear, whom, I distinctly remember, refused to sleep in my bed, preferring to camp out on the back of our sectional sofa. And of course, if you’ve read any of my previous entries, you know I have a beloved Boston Terrier named Bingley.
As of late, I’ve needed to find an activity to fill up some odd bits of spare time and get me out of the house. Several friends suggested volunteering, and after much browsing and a few applications, I got approval (on a very snowy Saturday afternoon, no less) to train as a volunteer for the Animal Adoption Center. I was so excited to be accepted! I attended an orientation where a group was introduced to the facility and what would be expected from us during our time volunteering. The following week, I attended the animal handling orientations, and then, I was free to volunteer whenever I wanted!
I showed up the very next Monday to walk dogs. There were several volunteers there that day, so I only got to walk two dogs, but I left with a huge smile on my face. While I was walking the dogs, I was totally focused on them and their well being. I didn’t have time to focus on my own inner issues because I had this other creature to care for. The dogs got exercise and freedom, and so did I: I got more than 10,000 steps in that day according to my FitBit, and for about two hours I completely forgot about my cares. I left feeling tired yet refreshed, with a feeling of accomplishment. This feeling was replicated the next time, when I got lucky enough to walk three dogs, one of which, Lulu, I had walked previously. The first time I walked little Lulu, she was timid and shy, repeatedly looking up at me as if to say “Am I behaving myself okay?” She flinched if I stepped funny and my foot came too close to her. I’m not sure she was badly abused, but she was unsure of herself. The second time I walked Lulu, two weeks later, she was like a different dog: confident, lively, happy to see me. It warmed my heart to see her change for the better, despite living in the shelter. It said to me that she was getting the care she needed, and I knew it was a good place. As I left that day, I saw her name on the adoption board: Lulu was getting a forever family!
A few weeks later I saw an e-mail from the volunteer coordinator, requesting a volunteer dog handler for an adoption event on Easter Sunday. It was like the stars aligned for me. Not only was I going to be spending Easter Sunday alone because The Hubs had to work, I was desperate to find something to do! I signed up immediately. Even better? THEY GAVE ME A PUPPY! Not to take home, haha, but to handle at the event. I felt so lucky! I nearly squeed my pants! Dinah was the cutest, sweetest thing ever (after my Bingley of course) and she was a joy to walk around the store. (It’s way easier to get strangers to talk to you when you have a puppy. Seriously. Especially handsome men.) The best part? Little Dinah got a forever family that very night. And Dante, the other dog, who had been one of the first two dogs I had walked at the shelter and who was also at the event, was also adopted the very next night.
Volunteering at the shelter doesn’t just help these amazing, loving animals who need homes. It helps me. On days when I don’t have enough to do to distract me from myself, I head to the shelter, and I always leave feeling better than when I arrived. Helping these creatures helps me, mentally and emotionally. According to www.nhs.uk, volunteering has many health benefits, including:
- A longer life
- A healthier lifestyle
- Improved family relationships
- Meeting new people
- Improved self-esteem and sense of purpose
Plus, it has been scientifically proven that spending time with animals is beneficial to your health. Helpguide.org lists the benefits of spending time with animals:
- Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
- People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with dogs survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
So I’m going to keep going. It makes me happy! In fact, I love it so much that I got another e-mail today asking for volunteers and I got so sad because they need volunteers for Saturday, and I work every Saturday, boo. But I’ll be back to reap the benefits, while helping these adorable pups (and cats, too, I promise) get new homes.
(If you’re interested in donating to the Animal Adoption Center, CLICK HERE. They can always use your support, and they are a dedicated team of only EIGHT full time staff who pride themselves in successfully running a NO KILL shelter. They get no public funding and rely on donations and volunteers.)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you find a way to make a difference in the world, because no difference is too small!
5 thoughts on “Giving and Getting Back: Why I Love Volunteering for an Animal Shelter”
Oh Andrea, I’m so glad you’re doing this. And since the hubs does have to work on some days that
you don’t, what a great way to not just “fill” the time, but make it so special and rewarding! I had tears
in my eyes when I read the part of LuLu changing and feeling happier and being adopted. How
gratifying is that?! When I look back, with the exception of my time living in one room in NYC, I don’t
think I’ve ever been without a pet. We always had a dog and/or kittens as children, plus peeps,
chickens, and rabbits. Our neighbors had small farms and there were cows in my everyday life too.
As newlyweds in the city, we had canaries. (Canaries that daily had free-range of the apartment and
perched atop the curtain rods.) When we were finally able to buy a house, it became cats and dogs
again – along with the occasional small snake, lizard, or frog that was returned to its natural habitat.
It’s important to stay connected to nature – we do need it for our well-being. Each day I thank our
cat for being with me for the comfort she provides. Your post reminded me that she provides even
more than that. As does the old turtle that walks around my garden. Lucky us!
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We ARE lucky. 🙂
I’m so glad to hear you’re having so much fun with the volunteering. Horray for animals!
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I can’t wait to go again. 🙂
This is awesome! I was quite smitten with Lulu in that picture…and happy to see she found her forever home. This is great work Andrea and I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.