In February 2016, I went on a run with my coworker on a Sunday morning after heavy rain had fallen the night before. Less than a half mile into the run, two large dogs came running around the curved road on the opposite side of us. Without thinking twice, I called them over to us and they abided, running alongside me while my coworker and I thought of our course of action. We ended up taking them to an animal shelter, actually the animal shelter that I’ve now volunteered at for ten fulfilling months.
After months of training, I am now a cat socializer and feline adoption counselor. Here are some wonderful lessons I have learned from working at the shelter with cats and people:
- Giving feels really good. I think, a lot, all the time, and giving is that one time when I’m wholly doing something for someone, or some animal, besides myself. It makes my problems seem distant, because I’m confronted with the unique responsibility to insure the comfort and safety of the animals. Giving means I can stop the endless chatter in my brain to make sure I do my part at the shelter as a good advocate.
- Never, ever compromise giving. Sadly, I knew someone who asked me to volunteer less to make more time for him. Not thinking I would ever have to explain why I would want to spend time volunteering, I have learned never to compromise on giving. If anything, being asked to give up giving has made me want to give more, and give more consciously.
- Love bites are just that. I can’t get this sentence a man said at the shelter out of my head, “I don’t like biting, there are plenty of good cats.” It made me understand the weight that my counseling has on people’s lives, and on the way that they perceive animals to be and to act. I find myself defending a lot of cat behaviors, like love biting, to realize that we as humans don’t do the same for each other. We don’t internalize and analyze human behaviors in the same as we do animal behaviors.
- Grieving for cats. I’ve had many people come in after the loss of a pet. It’s a painful process, and also a beautiful one. The grieving allows us humans to call upon our most nurturing and open-eared selves. We pause and really listen to each other, we think more deeply about what we say and how potent our words are, and we don’t work on the “what am I saying next” model. We become more in-the-moment when dealing with these tough topics.
- Channeling love. I have handled many cats that have been deemed less adoptable and less wanted. Those cats specifically draw a parallel for me in my own life. I think about how many times in my childhood I needed a supportive person to comfort me and to nurture me. I think about the ungodly things I have endured, and then I channel all of the love I never received into nurturing the cats.
I have learned in my time volunteering that I am a being made of so much love that it’s overflowing out of me, and I can use that tremendous love to provide a sense of safety to a cat in a small cage, a cat that’s been abused, a cat that’s been at the shelter for too long, a cat that has a medical condition. No cat is unloveable.
There is a lot to learn about animals and people from working at the local shelter, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Animals, and especially cats, open up a powerful human connection that leaves a permanent imprint on the way that we look at life, and the way the we live our lives.