♪♫♪ Tracing patterns across a personal map / And making pictures where the lines overlap, where the lines overlap…
Sometime earlier in the summer, I spent two Saturdays at PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Center for volunteer training and subsequent Kitty City and Dog Town training. For those of you who don’t know, PAWS is the largest no-kill shelter in the city, and its adoption center is located on Clybourne and Racine. Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter, but I’ve never seem to found the time or the opportunity. Also, I had my own dog to take care of in high school, and I always felt busy enough with school and activities as it was. My dog, a Pomeranian named Zephyr, was also diabetic. This meant that he needed insulin shots twice a day with both of his meals, and usually it was either my mother or me giving him his shots. At first when he was diagnosed several years ago, I was nervous at giving him the shot, and I remember his twitch of pain when I was accidentally too rough due to my fear of hurting him – which of course would make the shot hurt more. But gradually, I became more adept at painlessly slipping the needle in and out for his insulin by coaxing him into behaving with his food. Eventually it became easier to maintain his diabetes by watching his food intake and walking him every day for a good amount of time.
I loved Zephyr with my whole heart, and I’ve never been so heartbroken in my life than I was when he died a little over a year ago. It was the second half of my freshmen year, and my mother was actually in Taiwan at the time. I know she was deeply saddened as well since she had no idea leaving for Taiwan would be the last time she would be able to see him. And with my brother and me both at college now, Zephyr was her constant companion at home when my father worked late nights. I remember my entire family was deeply impacted by his passing, and we all grieved together. I know a lot of people just see it as a pet dying, but I felt like I lost a sibling. Zephyr had been with use for over ten years and I had spent the better half of my childhood with him making memories and having a best friend always there for me. I think anyone who has loved their pet deeply would understand the hole that is left behind once he or she is lost. It took a long time to feel normal again, but slowly I came to terms with my grief, realizing I gave him all the love I had and the best life possible. I still keep my favorite picture of him taped over my bed that travels with me every year when I move to a new place.
This past year, my interest was peaked in PAWS because I heard from a friend of mine that the volunteer process was super simple and that they’re always looking for new help. Their volunteer base is enormous because they’re always trying to dedicate more money to medication, care, surgeries, neutering, and other materials for the animals. It’s really inspirational to see how dedicated some of the volunteers are to spending so much of their personal time outside of their regular jobs to be there just out of their love for animals. They’re also the ones who hold the training sessions, so after just going there for two of the mandatory sessions, I knew that I wanted to be involved too.
Last week, I had my first day at volunteering. I chose to do Dog Town because of course I’m much more comfortable with dogs after having had one myself for many years. Although I completed the training for Kitty City, I think I’ll save that for a little bit later until I’m more confident on what I’m doing. Also it seems like from the emails that Dog Town requires more frequent help because of all the walking that needs to happen! Because of my class and work schedule, I chose a Saturday morning shift. It was actually the first shift of the day at 8 AM, and it’s the prime time for all the busiest work to begin – washing the rooms (no cages! all the dogs get their own rooms. It’s very nice and comfortable!), feeding the dogs, letting them out to walk and do their business, washing dishes after meals, and doing laundry. The volunteers are split into levels, and I was of course a Level One Volunteer. Since it was my first time, I was paired with a Level Two Volunteer, Erica, who showed me the ropes of feeding and walking. Erica, who has both fostered and adopted dogs from PAWS before, was extremely friendly in showing me what to do and I quickly felt very involved and comfortable in my work. For three hours, we walked several dogs (some more than once!), fed them, and helped clean out the rooms. The most difficult task was probably feeding the dogs who needed to take medication. Many of them are very picky and clever eaters, eating around their pills or spitting them out after eating their favorite parts. It took a lot of coaxing and tries to finally get some of them to eat the pill!
It was wonderful to be able to walk the dogs. Walking Zephyr used to be my clockwork routine after I came home from school from elementary school through high school, and it was always a meaningful time for me to spend with him because I felt like decompressing from the day. I hadn’t walked many dogs since he passed, and on that Saturday I had the chance to walk dogs for hours. Erica and I always went together, and the Level One dogs were always well-behaved and I had no problems making the two circle route around the Adoption Center. That’s not to say that the Level Two or Three dogs are not behaved – Erica handled them fine – they’re just more prone to pulling or being excited at seeing other dogs or people. I remember Zephyr was the same way, particularly toward big dogs! There’s a good rule they have where it’s one dog/puppy per volunteer to make sure no one loses control, but even so, the puppies that Erica and I walked still had a knack to get their leashes tangled up around our legs and with each other, especially if they saw cyclists or pedestrians that they wanted to sniff or investigate. I could certainly say there wasn’t a single dull moment!
It was so lovely to be surrounded by animals and other animal-lovers – and it was only my first time volunteering there! I can’t wait to go back again, and I hope to make it a regular habit to spend some time there. I’ve really missed just being around animals, and I think this could be the perfect way to spend some time for others and myself at the same time.
And now I’ve got a feeling if I sang this loud enough / You would sing it back to me, you would sing it back to me ♪♫♪
(Where The Lines Overlap - Paramore)