Over the past 5 months, I've had the pleasure of getting to volunteer at the Humane Society of Huron Valley here in Ann Arbor. I started out helping around the shelter doing administrative things like filing and stuffing adoption packets, as well as helping out with laundry (you'd be amazed how many towels and blankets they go through in a day!) A few months ago, I went through some additional trainings to become a dog walker, so I've been doing that once a week for the past few month and I LOVE it!! Whether you're having a good or a bad day, there's nothing like coming to the shelter and seeing all the dogs so happy and excited that you there to take them outside to play. HSHV has a really beautiful facility with a lots of walking trails and a big play yard for the dogs. They really strive to get each and every animal adopted, and did over 3,500 adoptions last year, and have a very low euthanasia rate in comparison to most shelters. They really encourage all the dog walkers to be working with the dogs on manners and commands during their walks using positive reinforcement, that way the dogs are more likely to get adopted and transition more easily into a family. The Humane Society has all types of dogs during a given week, and I've walked everything from a tiny Chihuahua to a giant American Bulldog. Each dog really has their own unique personality, and it's just a joy to get to spend time with them. Some dogs are extremely active and intelligent and just love to play fetch and run around in circles, while other dogs are much more relaxed and laid back and just want to sit with you and be petted.
One of my favorite moments so far during my time volunteering has been one gorgeous Sunday afternoon while I was walking dogs, I happened to walk a dog named Sandy (pictured, right). Sandy was a little bit of an older dog, about 7 years old, and she was a beagle mix that was fairly large and a little on the stout side. We went out for a walk and she just wanted to walk at her own pace, but she was extremely gentle and well-behaved and didn't pull on the leash at all. I got to play with her for awhile and saw what a mellow, sweet dog she was. While we were walking, I started to feel bad for her, thinking that since she is a little bit of an older, lower energy dog, she would probably not be adopted for awhile, as a lot of families tend to gravitate toward the puppies and younger dogs. Not even five minutes later, a family with a boy about 9 years old came up to me and told me how they've been coming to visit Sandy for the past few weeks, and they had been watching her walk so nicely with me, and decided that they want to adopt her! They said they really wanted a laid-back, gentle dog that they could go walking with, and took Sandy's leash from me, and adopted her that day! Seeing this family get the dog that they always wanted as well as seeing this sweet dog find a forever home was really touching, and moments like that are what I love about volunteering at HSHV.
I think that the coolest thing about my volunteer experience has been the way that I constantly get reminded just how much animals can teach us about love. I'll be the first to admit, I can be a critical person. I know it's terrible (and I know I'm definitely not alone in doing this), but many times during the day, I'll come in to contact with people and think "Oh that person is too fat/skinny/ugly/has an annoying voice/has an outfit that doesn't match..." Just random, Jerry Seinfeldish reactions that are extremely superficial and shallow, and although I know they're not right, I can't seem to keep them from popping into my mind. But what I love about animals is they don't have a judgemental bone in their cute little furry bodies, and they really just want to shower everyone with love. When I'm at the Humane Society, I see all types of people who obviously come from all different walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, and I'll admit, sometimes it can be easy to make assumptions about people. Animals don't do that. They don't care about the clothes that people are wearing, how much money they have, the color of their skin, or whether they're having a good hair day or not. They're excited that someone is there to play with them and pet them, and they're just ready to pour all their love out on to whoever comes by their cage. The other day, I passed by one of the communal cat rooms (where a bunch of the cats get to be together, instead of being in cages), and there was a older woman there in a wheelchair petting a cat, and they both looked so peaceful. There are actually quite a few people with both physical and mental disabilities that come and volunteer at the shelter, and it's really touching, because I know these are people who have faced hardships and have probably been made fun of for being different. However, when they're spending time with the animals, it's safe for them just to be themselves, and feel totally accepted. I can't help but think every time I spend time with the animals that the way they see us is really how God sees us. He doesn't see any of these superficial details that we judge each other on, but rather he desires simply pour out his love on us, and desires for us to love him in return. It's funny, I wanted to volunteer because I felt sorry for all these dogs cooped up in their cages and thought that I would help them by coming and walking them. In reality, by volunteering at the Humane Society, I'm really the one who has received the benefits from getting to spend time with all these animals who have really taught me so much!