An Observation on Shelter Volunteering
A shelter volunteer friend of mine shared this with me today and I wanted to pass on the eloquent essay and share with you. To anyone who has ever asked themselves why we work with homeless shelter animals: this is her story:
"She was rescued from a backyard, chained up and starving. The misery was over, but now the work would begin. We had to fill the void created from a life lived at the end of a chain. There were so many things for her to learn about living a normal life. In the confines of the shelter we could only save her life—we couldn’t give her one. It would take a real home with all the routines of a normal day to do that. But we had to start someplace.
With that in mind, I took her to an off-leash play area, the familiar clank of the gate latching closed behind me. I reached down and unclasped her leash. With joy-fueled momentum she ricocheted around the play yard. Gravity was just a suggestion. She was a fugitive from the laws of physics. She was entropy in fur. She was a blur. Telling her to sit at this moment would be like opening a bottle of champagne and telling the bubbles to stay. She needed time to effervesce. The time to learn manners would come soon enough, but this was no teachable moment. Or was it?
I stood back, watched and learned. Until now, she’d had little reason to feel joy and no way to express it. It’s a muscle she had never flexed. But somewhere in the goodness of her genes was the understanding that life was supposed to be better than the hell she had been living. The miracle is that she was rescued before the instinct for happiness was extinguished. Death isn’t when we stop breathing — it’s when we stop feeling anything that makes us want to feel anything more. I envied her lightness, her presence, her ability to spin joy out of thin air. It wasn’t just a faint, shy glimmer, either. She beamed out brilliant, high-wattage happiness. For her, every minute was a beautiful leap of faith.
She never seemed to realize that her previous misery was caused by her human owners. Life was miserable simply because it was. And now it simply wasn’t. She didn’t need the reasons or to carry them forward. She simply didn’t need her past anymore. There wasn’t a minute to waste – she couldn’t absorb the present fast enough. She hadn’t moved on as much as she had simply stayed present, shifting with it, emotionally weightless. So this was her secret to defying gravity. She was the bubble that escaped the bottle.
Inspiration is a priceless gift regardless of who it comes from. I was the lucky witness to happiness trumping misery. I wanted to see the world as she saw it and to know what she knew.
I wish we had a better word for dog training than dog training. It implies we do all the teaching and they do all the learning. We forget that all we’re really teaching them is how to live in the human world. But if we’re so smart, why don’t we do a better job of living in the human world ourselves? And when it comes to actually knowing how to be a dog, let’s not forget who the real experts are. There are so many qualities that transcend species – qualities that other species exemplify much better than we do. We don’t have all the answers. They teach us the only way they can, and the only authentic way there is — by example, over and over, with more patience than we usually have the graciousness to show them. The real magic happens when we accept that the boundary between trainer and trainee is fluid and porous.
Our next lesson would have to wait. It was time to take my teacher back to her kennel."
Taken from a post on Gabbs Dogs on Facebook – Author unknown
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