Volunteering with Animals: Doggie Hugs and Kitten Joie de Vivre
By Carol Kline, co-author, Chicken Soup for the Cat & Dog Lover’s Soul and advisory committee member, Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation
Last month we had a big event at our recently built animal shelter, including a dedication ceremony and public tours. This meant a lot of visitors. When the whole event was over and the place cleaned and empty, I stood alone in the lobby. The dogs were all in their indoor kennels, the cats resting in their beds after the big doings of the day. I changed into my kennel clothes and slipped into the kennel wing. The dogs were quiet; the radio was tuned to soft rock. I opened Crown’s kennel door as quietly as I could to avoid the barking chorus a visitor’s presence always seems to inspire.
Crown had been a basket case all day. She is, as a rule, shy of strangers, and the continuous parade of them throughout the day had sent her over the top. During the tours, I had noticed her standing as far back from the front of her kennel as she could, alternately cowering and barking.
As you can imagine, Crown hasn’t been an easy adopt. She and her sister came to us almost a year ago as strays; dumped in the country, they were starving and unused to being around people. We named the two little sisters, Crown and Royal, cleaned them up, fed them, spayed them, gave them their shots, taught them that people can be nice and put their pictures up on our website.
Royal, who was even shyer than Crown, found a home, but Crown was returned to us after one unsuccessful adoption (she was afraid of the little boy of the family), and here she has stayed.
She is officially listed as a beagle mix. Whatever she is mixed with makes her look like some species of small African gazelle. She is sleek and small boned with lovely white feet on the ends of her delicate, long legs. Her eyes are expressive, and it looks as if someone has outlined them in a perfect oval with jet-black eyeliner. She holds her tail in a down position most of the time, the end of it flicking wildly back and forth if she spots someone she recognizes and is happy to see. I am one of the many people that Crown has come to love.
Now, as I move quietly into her kennel, she is curled up in her bed, but she immediately comes over to me, her tail a blur of happy movement. I sit on the floor, lean my back against the kennel wall and pull her into my lap. She presses herself against my chest and sighs deeply. I start moving my hands over her body in slow steady strokes, and she responds by licking my neck and then my hands—anywhere she can reach. She is still agitated from the day and I can feel her nervous energy as she turns around and around in my lap.
Suddenly, she hops off, runs to her bed and rooting in the blanket for a moment finds her bone. Holding it in her mouth she trots back to me, climbs back into my lap and sits down. I feel her body finally relax and melt into mine. This whole time, I have been talking quietly to Crown, telling her what a beautiful and excellent dog she is, but now we are silent. She snuggles into me—bone held securely in her mouth—and gives herself over to my embrace. Right here in this moment, she has everything she wants.
We sit like this for a while. It is deeply soothing for both of us, this moment of shared peace. I feel love, tenderness, compassion—a warmth of feeling from the center of my chest—flowing between us, a form of communion. And although I eventually have to leave and say goodbye to Crown, the peace and love remain with me for hours.
I believe that dogs trade in the currency of love. It is the unit of exchange that humans and dogs share. Cats and humans share it too; it varies from animal to animal and from person to person.
Earlier in the day, I had seen a litter of kittens playing together in the kitten nursery room. An older gentleman had been sitting in the visitor’s rocking chair cradling a furry gray kitten in one hand while observing the rest of the litter in action. These kittens were at the age of sheer intrepid curiosity and instant play-combat. In one moment, they were scampering up and down the gentleman’s pants legs, in the next, batting wildly at each other and wrestling.
Kittens are game for anything and everything. The world is fascinating; fun is all around. The soundtrack for their lives is one continuous YIPPPEEEE! I find my own eyes opening wider in the presence of kittens. Their joie de vivre is infectious.
The older man felt it too. I could see the smile playing around his mouth as he watched the kittens alternately tumble and zoom around him. Sometimes we both just laughed out loud. Kitten energy is a natural high.
When people ask me why I volunteer with animals, I want to explain these experiences, but it isn’t a quick and easy answer, and it isn’t clearly understood by everyone.
Simply put, I volunteer with animals because I am drawn to them. The more time I spend with them, the more time I want to spend. It’s a toss up who benefits more from the hours I spend volunteering with animals. I find my own life immensely enriched by my interaction with all animals: my own three dogs, shelter cats and dogs, squirrels, birds and rabbits in the yard, even pictures of animals sent to me on the Internet. I find it deeply rewarding to know that my efforts have helped previously scared, lonely and hungry animals to find permanent loving homes where they can spread the wealth they hold inside.
Riches come in many forms. I’ll take the furry kind.
P.S. Crown did find her forever home.