Soul Deep.

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Yesterday, I was driving to the shelter and my thoughts turned to Angie, our former foster dog. It started out as a visual rundown of what I called “Top Ten Moments with Angie” that quickly turned into a profound sense of longing and missing her. Whenever I start to feel that way, my thoughts almost inevitably turn to my dad and how much I miss him. I was nearing a full-on cryfest when I decided to change the radio station. I switched to 102.9 and what was playing but “Angie” by The Rolling Stones. Our Angie was given her name for this song, because the Stones were my dad’s favorite band. And, I mean FAVORITE band. My dad loved a few things above all in life: his family, food, the New York Yankees, the New York Giants and The Rolling Stones. Anyway, I struggle a lot with feeling close to my dad and like he is still “with me” and in that moment, I truly felt his presence in my heart. Yes…our next dog will likely be named Keith Richards, male or female 🙂 So, I cried the rest of the way to the shelter (Thankfully, I was able to see because I keep a large collection of Dunkin’ Donuts napkins in my glovebox) and when I got there, needed to decompress for a few minutes before heading into the kennels. I was chatting with my friend Lara and told her of my experience driving there and then mentioned a particular dog I was looking forward to seeing. Lara told me that the dog had been euthanized. Cue instant tears and a new pit opening in my stomach. I was devastated. I let it sink in for a few moments, we talked about why and I went and washed off my face and moved on with my day. To say that moving on was easy would be a lie, I had a haunted feeling that honestly still hasn’t left me 24 hours later. But, move on I did, because at the end of the day, any time that I spend at that shelter isn’t about me. It’s about the dogs and the amazing people there who work so hard to ensure that as few dogs as possible end up with the same fate as sweet Blanca. I know many people don’t approve of kill shelters and have problems with them for lots of reasons, but, all I will say is that at the shelter I volunteer for, these decisions are made in a very considered way in which many times the dog’s well-being and mental health is of primary concern. There are many places that are “no-kill” which keep dogs alive in conditions that are not sufficient for the long-term, and I for one, can’t believe that being alive in a sub-par environment is good for any dog. There are lots of ways to argue this one, but, at the end of the day, I believe that a dog’s mental health is an important consideration and that shelters are not to blame when a dog is euthanized (at least I believe this about ACCT), but, society is. People are…people who have dogs for the wrong reasons, people who have not the slightest idea what a dog’s needs are and people who flat out just don’t care.
I can hardly think of anything in my life that pushes me to work harder and to try to do more. I get enraged about a lot of things, ie, statements like “I am not concerned about the very poor, they have an ample safety net” can make my blood boil, but, mostly leave me feeling helpless. But, you can bet I will be doing the one thing I feel I can do in that regard: voting against Mitt Romney. Plus, he strapped his dog to the roof of his car in a kennel. I mean, c’mon, really?? But, volunteering at the shelter does not leave me feeling helpless, even though the over-population of animals and under-education of people is not likely to end any time soon. Rather, it makes me feel empowered, like I am doing something of value…even if that value is only felt by the dog in front of me at that moment. The value is time out of a kennel to play, getting some loving and just being a dog.
A lot of people ask me how I do it and my answer is always the same “how can I not?”. I can sit back and feel sad, I can cry, I can get angry or I can try to do something about it. I understand that a smelly, chaotic shelter full of scared, sick, confused and sometimes desperate animals is not everyone’s idea of a relaxing place. But, for me, it is the place where I feel most like me. I feel like I am the best version of myself when I am there. I tune out the sound, I tune out the smell and I tune into the wagging tail or the lowered head in front of me. And, I feel truly blessed to have found someplace where so many other people feel the same way. When I first started volunteering, I didn’t care about making friends…I wanted to hang with dogs. Since starting, I have met so many people who simply amaze me. People who day after day, dog after dog and cat after cat, open their hearts, put their feelings aside and just keep going. People who foster sick animals or scared animals, get to the shelter more days than not, who take pictures endlessly, who run events weekend after weekend and who dust their asses off to do it again tomorrow. I am so glad that I decided to do more than just cuddle, because this small army of people (some of whom I don’t really even know) have shown me the way out of my self- centered depression. And, ironically for someone who worked as a counselor for years, the way has not much to do with talking…but, much more to do with doing.
Some of the things I most proud of in my life have to do with animals and bringing discarded ones into my home and loving them. It is not a feeling of “Wow, I rock, look at what I did”, but, rather a feeling that reaches down into my soul and gives me a feeling of connectedness with life. Now, I get to add to that every time I share the joy and love and sadness and loss with other people. For me, it is the best therapy I have ever had. The shelter has given me a way to feel like I am adding to life instead of just sitting around thinking about how sad some things are. Pick up runny poop? Sure. Pet your mangy head? Yep. Throw a slobbery ball endlessly until you tire out? No problem. Lay in the sun with you today, not knowing your fate tomorrow. Sign me up. I wish more people had the opportunity to do this, I wish more people saw it as an opportunity. Because, it is. Spending time with and giving love to an animal that someone else decided wasn’t worth it is a gift…a chance to open your heart and just love. Yesterday, before I went to hang with dogs, I hung out in the adoptions office, where 2 cats are currently being housed. I went over to say hello and looked at the signs on their cages. One said (I am paraphrasing here) “I am super-sweet and loved to be held like a baby” and the other said “Feed me soft food” with either a heart or a smiley face and “I am dirty and need a bath, but, I am very sweet” and my heart just burst open at the love that someone put into those simple signs. I talked to them through the wire, pet the gray one, who was desperate for more love and felt terribly guilty when I left to go see the dogs. Every time I walked back into the office, that cat was reaching through the wire, meowing like crazy as if saying “LOVE ME, PLEASE!!”. Later, I walked by and a staff member was holding the cat (like a baby!) at her desk while she worked. These are the people I have met…and I could not feel more honored 🙂
Now…shameless pitch:
This is my new Pen Pal, Winnie:

She is awesome. I am totally in love with her. Sweet, smart, perfectly-sized, playful and walks like a dream on the leash. You can learn more about her on the ACCT Pen Pals page here:
https://www.facebook.com/ACCTPhillyPenPals
and more about all of the other dogs and cats available for adoption at ACCT here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Philly-Urgents-Page/196737460358855

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6 responses »

  1. Again Lori you have put in to words what many of us feel but can’t begin to explain – so thank you. And I again need to apologize for blurting out Blanca’s fate to you while you were already a puddle – I sincerely apologize.

  2. I’m not exactly sure how I found your blog but I love reading it. I check daily. I am also a volunteer at ACCT & started with PSPCA. I don’t get there as often as I’d like but you’ve seriously made me feel like I should be there everyday. The feeling of giving back to the homeless animals is so rewarding. I feel great about it and I know I make the dogs happy by giving them much deserved fresh air. My husband and I adopted our dog from ACCT and she has truly stolen our hearts. It hasn’t even been a full year but I don’t know what I would do without her. Thanks for volunteering and sharing the experience and maybe one day I’ll meet you at the shelter 🙂

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