Anybody who knows me knows that I love dogs. Almost all dogs, though I am not that fond of the various poodles (mini, regular and/or standard). I have always had rescue dogs, with the exception of our latest, Jake, who is the offspring of our friends' dog.
Given my fondness of all things puppy and, specifically, rescue puppy, I decided a few months ago to start volunteering at the Oregon Humane Society. I promised myself that I would try to take some of the emotion out of the job. As a prerequisite I had to promise Ben that I wouldn't bring home any dogs. For the last few months I have been in extensive orientations, registrations, mentor meetings and dog handling training, but I am slowly starting to learn my way around. I also am slowly starting to feel like I have been contributing to making all of those canines' hopefully short stays at the Humane Society a more pleasant experience. I take dogs on walks, clean out their kennels, give them a fresh blanket in the evening, and sometimes I just sit with them when they're looking sad. It really has been a humbling experience.
Yesterday was an especially rough day in that the heartbreak came at me from nowhere. As I said hi to each dog and handed out treats, I noticed a larger than usual number of medical issues. There were two dogs who recently lost one of their legs. They hobbled to get their treats, tails wagging and smiles on their faces, as if this was just a minor setback. There was one guy whose eyeball tended to come out of its socket. He was super happy to get a treat. I usually don't see this many medical cases at once, at least not in my short stint here. Yet none of these hit me that hard.
Close to the end of my day I had one last row of kennels to visit. I came upon a larger kennel that held two rather large dogs. Both dogs were huddled in the corner and wouldn't make eye contact with me. I tossed them some hot dog bits, but they didn't respond. They lay there, huddling in the corner, guarding their food bowls, avoiding eye contact at all times. When I looked at their paperwork, I noticed that they were 5 years old. I also noticed the following: "Lived in shelters entire lives. Not accustomed to human interaction."
I felt as if a ton of bricks had hit me square on the shoulders. I had to stop to catch my breath as I stared at the card and then back at them. I wasn't expecting this. How can people do this to a dog? They've never known the joy of a dog park, or a swim, or even a camping trip with their human friends. All they know is how to live in a kennel. It was absolutely heartbreaking.
I left the room in a haze. I sort of wandered for a minute, but felt more and more emotion coming over me until it was overwhelming and I had to leave. That feeling would not leave me for the remainder of the day and still hasn't, although it has subsided a bit now that I have had some time to think about the situation. Even though they are at the Humane Society, they are in a better place than they probably were before. They have constant interaction with people. They will be walked on a regular basis. They will have people who come to see them, just to see how they're doing. but the most reassuring thought is that they will be rehabilitated to function as normally as possible. There are so many employees and volunteers there who actually care. They are in a place where somebody's #1 goal is to get these guys ready to go home, and not to another shelter.
After considering never going back, I came to the realization that this won't be the last time I come across this type of situation. But that's OK. All of those guys need somebody to visit with, and that's why I'm there. I just hope that next time I won't be caught so off guard.