From My WindowIssue Date: July 29, 2020
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
There are so many upsetting and chaotic things happening right now I find myself making a real effort to focus on the good news that is all around me, if I only choose to look for it. Our minds and bodies are not designed to handle constant stress, and exercising the discipline to unplug from the frustrating torrent occasionally makes us healthier, allows us to re-build the strength we must have to support others who may be in need of our care, and helps to reassure those who worry about us that we are coping.
I volunteer several times weekly at a small animal shelter I have been working at for almost two years and chose to continue volunteering when the pandemic began. Because I, like millions of other people, am older and have a "pre-existing" health condition that puts me at higher risk, and because even regardless of that, I have great respect for the virus, I only work hours where I will be the only person in the building. I could work with other volunteers and our visitors and wear a mask, but I only get maximum protection out of that if everyone by me wears one as well. Some are not willing to do so. So while I miss working with others, I am doing what I can control, and what is safe for me.
One of the "shelter guests," a female German shepherd with a German name, had been there since I started working. So this dog had been living in a small shelter kennel for more than two years. We shelter volunteers called her by her nickname " "Fee."
Fee was beautiful, and about seven years old when I met her. My first meeting with her, like that of most other new dog volunteers, did not go well. She was extremely reactive in her kennel, and her size and unfriendly demeanor were most intimidating. I was determined to be one of "her people," and slowly and patiently started my campaign to win her trust. Every time I came to the shelter, I brought one or two small cubes of boiled chicken with me. I approached her kennel, ignored her hostile behavior, fed her the treat and left, without attempting to make friends beyond that. After about six visits, she started to wag her tail when she saw me, and within another week, I was confidently able to walk her.
Outside the kennel it was a revelation. She was very well trained, obedient and eye-catching. In addition, she was exceptionally smart, as many of her breed are. I always felt safe when walking her after dark on the back road the shelter is on. She radiated quiet confidence and it was clear she was not to be trifled with, although she was certainly not looking for trouble. I came to see her behavior as completely predictable, not unpredictable. If approached in her kennel by someone she didn't know, she was going to react.
There were a few dog volunteers who were never able to see that good part of Fee, because they were afraid of her. (No one should handle a dog they are afraid of, because it is unsafe to do so.) And that was usually the reaction of people who came to look at the dogs to find their new pet. One look at her normal kennel demeanor and they had seen enough. As Fee and I got closer, I came to understand her reaction as fear, not aggression, and I will always wonder what happened to her and where to make her that way.
A few people looking to adopt saw her as a challenge, and believed the volunteers who knew that in the right home setting, Fee could be a wonderful companion. There are lots of German shepherd lovers. A couple had to withdraw their application to adopt her when their homeowner's insurance refused to cover them if they owned a German Shephard. A woman who devoted many weeks to building her relationship with Fee finally decided that the dog's obvious attachment to some of her shelter volunteers was so great and so strong that it wouldn't be fair to remove her from the shelter. (This was a very sad thing for me. We all do everything we can for the animals in our care, but we will never replace a real home with people who commit fully and lovingly to a pet.) One person who seemed quite serious about her changed his mind when he found out she was no longer seven, but nearly nine years old. Nine is senior status for big dogs like Shepherds, and he feared his time with her would be too short.
We volunteers began to talk about Fee as one of the few unlucky animals who lives at our no-kill shelter until natural death.
And then one day this summer, a woman came to look at her. She got the usual unfriendly greeting, but was not deterred. She saw past the kennel behavior to a dog she felt she could build a connection with, and she patiently set about doing so.
She came to the shelter many times to visit, building the trust Fee needed to accept new people. Fee met the woman's sister, and the sister's small dog, and meetings went well. I marveled at the time the woman was committing to this project, and her tenacity.
Two weeks ago, while I was away from the shelter for a few days, I got a picture on my phone from the shelter volunteers-only Facebook page. It was Fee in her kennel, which was decorated with balloons and a sign "Farewell Fee! We will miss you!" I was so shocked, and so happy, I looked at it carefully several times, to be sure I was really seeing what I thought I was.
Fee has a home again. The owner reports she's adjusting well and sends pictures of Fee and her "little sister" dog in their house. Fee's ears and tail are relaxed in the pictures, and it is obvious she is happy and content.
I can't think of anything sadder than a dog who once had a home languishing in a kennel for more than two years, and the fact we volunteers nearly gave up hope she'd spend her golden years in a real home. But there are special "animal angels" among us, and sometimes one of them finds their way to our shelter. Godspeed Fee!
This morning I worked at the shelter on cat duty. I walked through the dog room to say hello to my canine friends and paused to greet newcomer "Indie" who now occupies Fee's old kennel. Appropriate, since she is also somewhat defensive at first, and as a part Rottweiler, intimidating. I glanced at the office adoption clipboards and saw that Freddie, the massively overweight pug is "going home" later today, (with a copy of the strict diet our vet has that rotund little guy on) and that both "Sundae" and "Benny" the kittens are in the midst of adoption processing. These two are our last remaining spring kittens and I am very attached to both of them. I cleaned a lot of litter boxes today, washed a lot of bedding and scrubbed dozens of food and water dishes. But I did it with re-energizing, invigorating joy in my heart. Three more deserving animals going to a real home soon.
It is very ironic that I resisted volunteering at an animal shelter for years, fearing I would find it too depressing. Instead, it is a source of happiness and satisfaction for me in these difficult times.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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