When working with shelter dogs in any capacity it is very likely you will experience the full range of human emotions during your involvement with them no matter what capacity it is in; volunteer, staff, director, adopter. When you are involved with shelter animals you often see the best and worst that humans have to offer. You may see dogs and cats that have been abused or neglected and are in very bad shape when they come into the shelter. But you also get to see humans and animals make this amazing connection with each other and become lifelong companions all starting at the shelter. Humans and animals that have never met see each other and connect its quite miraculous.
You see the best and the worst and pretty much everything in between. It is very easy to get worn down by the emotional roller coaster that is a shelter. I’m pretty sure that this same rollercoaster that the humans experience is also experienced by the animals that reside there with one big exception. The animals, the dogs and cats and any other animals residing at the shelter, they cannot go home at the end of the day to decompress and try to get back to normal.
For a dog there a day might go something like this. I wake up in the morning to the sound of the door to the shelter opening. If I am a nervous dog this might frighten me at first. I am greeted by one of my friends at the shelter (staff) who take me out for my morning walk. What fun. Then I have to go back into my kennel, even though I would rather keep playing, because the staff have other animals they have to care for too. But at least I get to come back to a nice clean kennel. (Thank you staff buddies) I get fed breakfast. Yum Yum Yum. I sit in my kennel nervous, anxious, or even afraid not knowing when my next human interaction will be. The staff pay as much attention to me as they can but they have much work to do and others to care for as well. I am taken out for a mid day walk by one of my favorite staff members. Yes, so much fun. But then it is time to go back in my kennel. Please don’t make me. Oooohhhh. I smell lunch. OK Bring me food. Humans I don’t know come and go. Some look at me some do not. Some stop to say hi, some don’t. I get excited and run to the front of my kennel and try to get the attention of these humans. I know one of them will see me and take me home and love me. I know I am ready to love one of them. Throughout the day doors are opening and closing and things are rattling around all of this might startle me or make me nervous. I see so many friendly looking human faces but none of them take me out of my kennel. My favorite volunteer comes in and plays with me. YAY YAY YAY!!! But she can’t take me home because she already has a doggy family of her own. Time for dinner. Scarf Scarf Scarf!!! These great shelter staffers are always good about feeding me,. Time for an afternoon walk. Yes. Time to stretch my legs. Oh. Back to my kennel… You sure? Why is everyone leaving? Where are all my friends going? The lights are out? I am left hear alone all night with no family to love me. I have to sleep or find a way to amuse myself that is not harmful to myself. I hope you will be back in the morning. I hope that someone will take me home.
Some dogs do OK in shelters for the time they are there but some dogs are never able to adjust to this unfamiliar and confusing environment.
Shelter dogs are amazing creatures and I am blessed to have known so many. We all try to do as much for them as possible. We try to love them and take care of them and make them feel safe. No matter what we do a shelter is no place for an animal. Think about your experiences at the shelter and then magnify it 100x. We have no way of knowing what the animals in our care are truly experiencing but we do the best for them that we possibly can. So when you are tired and sad and burned out just remember you have the one thing that these shelter animals don’t, a home and a family. Be thankful for that.
If you have loved a shelter dog or want to help raise awareness of shelter dogs please visit my IndieGoGO campaign and support it so I can help bring this exhibit featuring these great animals to the public: http://igg.me/at/ShelterDogsattheMuseum/x/13239346