What keeps me coming back to volunteer at the animal shelter week after week are the funny, the antic, the heartwarming moments. Such as:
Captive Audience. I had just brought Isabella, a mannerly six-year-old black Lab, back to her kennel in Birch Ward. Our entrance was greated with the usual “Howl-elujah Chorus,” with a percussion accompaniment of bowls clattering and bodies slamming against the gates. I was thankful for my earplugs to mute the highest, most piercing frequencies.
After closing Isabella in her kennel and giving her a treat, I went to the sink to wash my hands. There were no humans around, so I began singing in full voice: “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…”
At the sound of the song echoing through the concrete high-ceilinged ward, a startled silence fell, as abruptly as if someone had shut off the tap of noise. I laughed, amazed. Drying my hands on my jeans, I looked around at the curious doggy faces watching me from behind their gates, and continued singing:
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.
And then I couldn’t resist, bowed and said, “Thank you! You’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week.”
Jailbreak! Showing three people around one of the adoption wards, I had just taken Chewie, a handsome “blue” (gray, actually) pit bull out of his run so that two of the visitors, a young couple, could meet him.
All of a sudden Ninja, a large tan shepherd mix, burst out of his kennel. He and Chewie squared off but fortunately decided against mixing it up. Ninja scampered off, running up and down the hall between the kennels, and jumping at the doors to the outside like a moth battering against a window to get to a light bulb.
These antics of course made all the dogs bark wildly. I handed my leash, with Chewie on it, to the big tattooed young man who had asked to see him, and went off in pursuit of Ninja. Since I no longer had a leash, all I could do was grab Ninja’s collar; he thrashed in my grasp, twisting my fingers painfully in the webbing of his collar, and I wondered if he would bite me. Then the collar slipped over his head and he was off again, dancing through the ward.
Over the chorus of barks I semaphored to the young man to put Chewie in his kennel. He did, very capably, and brought me my leash. I caught up with Ninja at the front door and lassoed him. He trotted along beside me back to his run, panting hard, with, I swear, a mischievous grin on his face. I put him in his kennel and slammed the door hard so that the latch would fully engage, thinking ill thoughts about the person who had failed to do this before.
My visitors were laughing, and I did, too, though I knew how easily the situation could have turned dangerous. Not all dogs who are cleared for adoption get along with other animals. Some need to go to homes with no other dogs or cats.
“You handled that well,” one of the visitors told me as we left the building, me leading Chewie so that the couple could visit him in one of the meet and greet rooms in the main building, as originally planned before Ninja’s jailbreak.
“That’s why I get paid the big bucks,” I told her.
What we wish for every dog. Among the best moments are when we hear from proud and happy owners, with pictures and testimonials about their new furry family members. Early in my service at Northside it came as a great and unpleasant surprise to learn that when people chose one of our dogs and took him or her home, it was not necessarily a happy ending. The shelter’s high return rate was testimony to that – and then there were the all-too-common stories of dogs who had been adopted from our facility being picked up as strays, or turning up in a shelter in a faraway state and traced back to Northside by the dog’s microchip.
But those people who send photos and stories and share their delight are clearly in love, and that’s the best predictor of a lifelong successful adoption.
Little Liana was a beautiful, small spaniel-type dog, with a silky coat of russet brown and pearly white. The caretaker in Birch Ward pointed her out to me as someone in need of extra attention. “She’s terrified of the slip lead,” she said. “When it tightens around her neck she goes into a complete panic, flipping over, rolling and screaming.”
“So how would I walk her?”
“You’d have to get her into this harness.” She pointed to a pink web contraption that I could just imagine trying to wrestle onto a frightened, flailing animal.
“I will, another time,” I said. I had just finished up a busy shift of walking six dogs and didn’t have the energy for this new challenge.
But Liana was adopted before my next visit. She was chosen, I was told, by a family with a little girl who really seemed to love her.
A week or so later I was looking on the shelter’s Facebook page and saw a testimonial from the woman who had adopted Liana. She had posted a video of her small daughter lying on a carpeted floor under a comforter, head on a pillow, with the dog’s brown head beside her, peeping out from the cover. The child had her arm around the dog and could faintly be heard singing something in a soft, sleepy voice. Liana was lying perfectly still, her face turned toward the girl’s.
“You can’t hear it,” the woman wrote, “but Hannah’s singing to her that song from The Lion King, ‘Hakuna Matata.’”
I smiled, savoring the sweetness, the innocence, the evident mutual love, as I ran the video a few more times. “Hakuna matata” is Swahili for “no worries.” From all appearances Liana had attained that blissful state.