Doing it for the Dogs
Not too long ago, I finally gave up my membership in a health club. I say, “finally,” because I had been threatening my family with the impending loss of their health club privileges for many moons. If they didn’t start getting over to the club more often, I’d warn, I’m cancelling the contract. Of course, that’s not really fair to my seven-year-old son, who is always up for a swim in the club pool – or better yet, a soak in the outdoor hot tub; if he could drive himself across town for what he calls “a fun bath,” he would do it every day.
But neither my husband nor I have made it to the club in the last month – not once! We’ve both been hideously busy with work, but still – not even once? After briefly contemplating what that month’s dues could have bought us instead, I called up and cancelled.
But I’m not giving up on exercise. Instead, I’ve developed a plan, a program that will help peel me away from the computer, put some miles on my running shoes, and keep me immersed in the world of dogs.
In an article entitled, “Brother, Can You Spare an Hour?” in the January 1999 issue of WDJ, writer Dan Hoye described dozens of ways that people could help dogs by volunteering at their local animal shelters. One method in particular caught my fancy: walking the most restless and exuberant dogs. The idea was to help tire them out so they weren’t bouncing off the sides of their runs, to help them present themselves in the best possible light for potential adopters.
Adding pressure to do a good deed for dogs was a sidebar accompanying Hoye’s article, contributed by Pat Miller, WDJ’s “super-writer” and dog training expert, and a woman with more than 20 years’ experience as an animal control officer. Miller wrote:
Volunteering at an animal shelter can be challenging, demanding, and stressful. It can also be incredibly rewarding. Your efforts make shelter dogs more comfortable, increase their adoption potential, and give them a second chance for a loving home.
But you won’t be able to save them all. Animals are euthanized at shelters every day for lack of space, and for disease, injuries, and behavior problems. While you celebrate because the Shepherd mix puppy you fostered just got a second chance for life in a new home, you also accept that the dog you walked yesterday might be killed today. But whether the dog you walked yesterday is euthanized today or adopted tomorrow, you will know that by spending time with him, you improved his chances for adoption and helped make his stay at the shelter a happier one.
I have to say that in just a half-dozen visits to my local shelter so far, I have experienced the celebration and the sadness Miller spoke about. I was thrilled to hear that the excitable Dalmatian I walked on my first day had been taken home by a nice lady – and who also took the advice I had noted on the dog’s kennel card and arrived with a head collar! (We featured these amazing and gentle training tools in March 1998, our very first issue of WDJ.) But I was dismayed to hear that another of my first-day dogs, an affectionate but rowdy Pointer mix, the one with an infected ear and what appeared to be a ready-to-bloom case of mange, had been deemed too much of an adoption challenge, and had been euthanized. At least he had enjoyed one last long walk in the sunshine, and a dozen or so treats, before he was sent to the Bridge. It’s something I’d like to do on my last day on earth.