Imagine being abandoned by your family, or lost in a strange place. You're scared, hungry and confused. If you're lucky, a kind stranger sees your plight and rescues you, taking you to a place with food, a warm bed and kind hearts.
This is the story for so many lost and abandoned dogs and cats around the country who, through no fault of their own, end up without a safe place to sleep and someone to care for them. Animal shelters offer refuge for these helpless dogs and cats, giving them immediate care and the chance for a permanent home.
Many shelters depend on the kindness of volunteers to help them care for the animals in their stead. Shelter volunteers do everything from clean cages, to raising money, to helping with adoptions.
I recently had the fortune of volunteering at a private shelter near my home in Riverside, California. Known as the Mary S. Roberts Pet Adoption Center, the non-profit shelter takes in healthy, adoptable cats and dogs from owners who can no longer care for them. As space allows, they also select healthy adoptable cats and dog from other local animal welfare agencies.
My volunteer job at the center was to socialize with cats and dogs. Homeless pets that receive regular human contact have a better chance at being adopted, so spending quality time with these animals made it more likely they would find a forever home.
Cats at Mary S. Roberts live in condos, usually two cats to an enclosure. Although their condos contain plenty of cat-friendly items, such as scratching posts, cat trees, hammocks and toys, these kitties still need the human touch. My job was to spend at least 20 minutes in each condo, petting and talking to the feline inhabitants. Volunteers were also encouraged to read books to the cats, which helps them relax and learn to enjoy the sound of a human voice.
When it came to dog socializing, the job was a bit more involved. A logbook keeps track of which dogs had been exercised each day, and what kind of activities each dog preferred. My favorite task was taking dogs to the exercise yard, where I could toss a ball to them and encourage them to play on the agility equipment. While some dogs preferred to run around and sniff during their entire 30-minute outing, others wanted nothing more than to curl up in your lap and cuddle.
One such dog was a little tan Chihuahua mix named Peanut. While many dogs came and went over a six-month period, little Peanut was always there when I'd arrive for my Saturday shift. A sweet little guy who liked to play, Peanut seemed like the perfect companion. After running around the exercise yard for a few minutes, he'd jump in my lap and sniff at the air while I stroked his fur. I started to feel sad for this little dog, who seemed to be passed over every day when potential adopters walked through the kennels looking for the right pet.
Then one day, when I arrived for my shift, I noticed Peanut was gone. I asked a staff member about him and discovered he'd been adopted by a family who had fallen in love with him. I was sad I wouldn't see his sweet face anymore, but knowing Peanut had found his forever home made it all worthwhile.