Friday, October 23, 2009
A few weeks ago I attended a small get-together to celebrate the adoption of long-termer, Betty Jane. (Yes! Hurray! Betty J. was here for 11 months and finally someone entered BACS doors and saw what a wonderful, sweet girl she was!) One other volunteer (Hi, Dorothy!) mentioned how she used to post her top 10 reasons for volunteering at the Berkeley Shelter on craigslist....well, it got me thinking: what are my reasons?
10. Bragging rights! Next time someone says you're selfish, you can say, "Nah-uh! I volunteer!"
9. Got the time? I'm working part-time and the economy sucks so I can't get a real job. What else am I gonna do with my time?
8. It's free!
It costs a lot of money to have hobbies these days. My mom must spend a fortune on knitting needles and yarn every year. But volunteering at the shelter doesn't cost me a dime, how's that for entertainment?
7. Feels good, don't it? Some people say that they couldn't volunteer because they'd feel so sad afterward -- I disagree! I get such satisfaction from caring for these dogs that I always leave the shelter in good spirits.
6. Learn something about yourself! For years I've wanted to be a pastry chef, but just recently I've started to explore other fields - like becoming an ACO! Who knew?
5. Guilt trip! On the days I'm not at the shelter, all I can think about are the dogs and if someone will take out Higgins and Jody. In fact, I challenge myself to go at least X number of days a week...and on the days I don't go I put $1 in an envelope towards buying a toy/treat for the dogs at the shelter.
4. Keeps you healthy! It keeps me physically active (since I began volunteering I've lost 30lbs!). But besides being healthy for me physically, it's good for me mentally.
3. Make friends! I've met so many kind, giving, unique individuals who have a passion for the welfare of animals.
2. Make an impact! Be an active member of your community and make a difference in the lives of animals.
1. Nothing I've done has ever felt as rewarding as this. Enough said.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
This golden-eyed beauty is simply too good for words. She is one of the shelter's sweetest, most gentle girls.
Little arrived at the shelter at the beginning of August and surprisingly, here she remains: an angel waiting for the luckiest person or family in the world to call her own.
Little is only her name - but her enthusiasm, her love, her loyalty, and her ability to find pleasure in the simple things are all larger than life! This girl's got a big heart and an even bigger need to please you, her person. Little only has eyes for her handlers as they stroll through Aquatic Park on a sunny morning, glancing back occasionally to make sure all is well.
She is a quiet dog, rarely barking or causing a fuss. Calm and mellow describe this big girl - she's a "cool cat", alright. Happy to simply chill out with you on a bench or jog along beside you. Not only does Little like people, but she enjoys the company of other dogs, too. She's also so gentle that we believe she'd be a wonderful companion to a family with children. Upon her arrival at BACS, Little sat patiently while being collared and while waiting at doors and side walks. She also walked like a lady, never pulling on the leash or displaying rude doggy manners.
Unfortunately, about 2 months into Little's stay at BACS, an incident occurred where she was nipped on the snout by a dog that was passing her kennel! Since then, Little has become difficult to collar. She was so spooked by that other dog, that now the kennel is her least favorite place to be in the whole world! SO eager to be away from the barking and howling, she becomes over excited when you enter her kennel with a collar and leash and all she wants to do is jump and play. ("Hurray! You've come to take me away!")
But once Little is outside, she immediately relaxes and once again she becomes the gentle giant and loving girl that so many volunteers have come to know and love.
One of those volunteers is Larry, whom for the past few weeks, has taken her for a walk every day (rain or shine!) around the lake at Aquatic Park. (Go Larry!) He describes her as a "sweet honey" - saying that she's such a good girl! He is often stopped while on his walk and complimented on his well behaved dog. Larry says she is so gentle and pleasant when they encounter other people and dogs on their walk together.
Little is a very great dog and it's about time she found her forever home. Wouldn't you agree?
Perhaps Little is just the dog you've been looking for...
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
At the beginning of September, one of the most stunning pitties I've seen since I began volunteering, strolled through the shelter doors as a stray. His person was in jail at the time and could not come to claim him before his review date was "up" (AKA - he became available for adoption...). For weeks, this poor boy could not go outside. :( It was heart breaking to walk by his kennel and see him suffering, yearning to roll around in the grass and play fetch! Thankfully, his person managed to come in 2 weeks later, explain her story, and take Papa home with her. I felt relieved knowing that Papa was finally away from the shelter, back in the comfort of his home where he belonged.
Then strangely, Papa returned to us on the 6th of October, believed to have "escaped' from his back yard or home. "How can this be?" I thought. I stopped by his kennel and said, "Aren't you supposed to be home?" -- he looked at me, tilted his head, and barked. Almost like he was saying, "YES! Lemme OUT!"
For 2 more weeks, Papa was confined in the small concrete kennel, not allowed to go for walks or have visitors (shelter policy). I'd walk by his kennel every day, offer him a treat or a small pet through the kennel door. Papa was going absolutely mad! This handsome boy has an enormous amount of energy and being cooped up was making him act out in his kennel. His new review date was on October 16th, but once again his guardian had failed to make an appearance.
4 days later and still no word. So -- Papa is officially up for adoption, ladies and gentlemen. Today was his first walk in over 2 weeks. And let me tell you, I think Papa has fallen in love with me simply for taking him outside! This boy charged for the door and immediately upon being outside, he galloped to the nearest plot of grass and began to roll. Just roll. His tail was wagging with pure pleasure, his tongue was hanging out, and he did a little dance on the grass.
I don't think I have ever seen a dog be so grateful, so thankful to be taken for a walk. I plan on doing it again tomorrow. :)
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Peterson arrived at the shelter a little over 2 months ago with his brother. At first, Peterson had a difficult time adjusting to shelter life. He was frightened, often barking at anyone who came near his kennel. But this intimidating facade instantly melted once outside with a volunteer. He gladly walked by their side, calm and mellow. This small 8 month old puppy seemed very mature for his age! With regular walks, Peterson soon became a shelter favorite, receiving plenty of compliments on his yellow walk card about what "a good boy", "a great dog", "a wonderful companion" he was. Peterson is such a sweet and tender fellow and the home he's going to is very lucky, indeed. The volunteers at BACS are SO happy for Peterson and his new family! Hurray!
Friday, October 16, 2009
A wonderful horse trainer once told me that when one is first starting to train an animal, the goal is to strive for moments of greatness. Initially, those moments may be few and far between, but over time, by making the work enjoyable and the expectations clear and consistent, those moments begin to string together to create a great animal and a great partnership. The benefit of working on such a timescale is that, if one moment is bad, MOVE ON, leave the frustration behind, because the next one could be great!
This advice has proven so useful for me when I'm handling the shelter dogs, especially smart, active dogs like Duffy, who I've been fostering for the last few months. Working with Duffy has been an amazing experience and he has really reminded me how important it is to live by the moment! Every moment has been a potential learning opportunity for Duffy as he acclimates to the big world outside of the shelter. Usually, a moment goes bad when I haven't recognized fast enough what he's learning from that moment, or my timing is off (yep, I'll admit it, it's usually my fault). Here's the kicker, Duffy easily recognizes frustration, which makes him nervous, and as you can imagine, that can spiral downward pretty quickly. So when a moment is bad, I've had to consciously put the brakes on that moment, and redirect it into a more successful moment. The joy of this is that I've also had to let go of life's frustrations when I'm with Duffy, what a healthier perspective!
Over the last few weeks, I've been noticing how our great moments are beginning to come with much greater frequency (thanks, in no small part, to our agility class, stay tuned for a future blog on that). Just last night, he had a fabulously great moment - he calmly and willingly approached something that scared him, but the best part is that he did it completely by himself, without any initiation from me to 'touch' it. Silly, right?, but this great moment is the culmination of several other smaller moments, no less great, that have been serving to build his confidence, and will no doubt be another building block for future moments. Duffy's growing up and becoming comfortable in his own skin, I can't tell you how proud I am to watch his transformation!
Sadly, what's not comfortable for Duffy at the moment are his eyes. I met recently with a group of Duffy fans to contemplate why he hasn't been adopted yet. It came up that his need for eye surgery is likely a big stumbling block so we decided to try and raise the funds for his surgery, which will make him a lot more comfortable as well. So, if any of you are interested in helping Duffy out, you can go to the site below for more information on Duffy's eye condition...
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
But today - today completely changed my perspective on rainy days.
I woke up this morning, looked out the window and smiled: Hurray! Rain!
But then it hit me: OH NO, RAIN! WHAT ABOUT WALKING THE DOGS?!
Yes, volunteering has become such an important part of my routine that my favorite weather, rain, suddenly became a huge obstacle. Before going to the shelter I drove around town, looking for a store that sold galoshes or boots, rain coats, ponchos - anything that could keep me dry while I spent time with my favorite pups. Unfortunately, I turned up empty handed and was forced to accept that today would just have to be a "visiting day".
The dogs were happy to see a familiar face, as usual, but it was obvious that they were more than disappointed when instead of bringing in a collar and a leash, I brought in a big blanket that we could sit on. Sweet Buffee gave me a look that said, "C'mon...you're joking, right?" (Perhaps that is her expression most of the time :) ).
I realized today that now, more than any other time of year, we need your help! Rainy days are a big disappointment for our pooches who look forward to going out every day with their favorite volunteers. Now that the rainy season is upon us, perhaps volunteers will become more scarce on those dreaded wet days.
What can we do as volunteers, as dog lovers, as compassionate people that can help keep our favorite shelter pups entertained when we're not there to do it ourselves? DONATIONS!
tennis balls, pig ears, and raw hide are no longer allowed!!
They clog up the drains and cost the shelter money
that they could be spending on the dogs!****
You can visit these websites to get GREAT deals on various toys and treats:
Don't forget, our dogs also could use some blankets and beds to stay comfy in their kennels.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Friend and fellow volunteer, Cathy S., invited Holly and I to the dog run yesterday afternoon so that Holly and Nate (recently adopted!!) could have a chance to let off some steam. Both Holly and Nate are very social dogs who just love, love, love being around other dogs and people. Luckily for Nate, he was adopted by a lovely family who already has a dog - so Nate will have a permanent playmate. Hurray!
Sadly, Holly has not yet been scooped up from the shelter. Which, quite frankly, is astonishing! This beautiful sweet heart is described by volunteers as "the best dog on Earth!". Holly is a wonderful girl and any family would be lucky to have her.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Right now, we are getting more and more dogs whose health is compromised, whether it be rotting teeth, terribly matted fur, untreated skin conditions, overgrown tumors. This, I tell myself is a result of our dismal economy: people cannot afford proper health care for their animals, so they give them to the shelter, with the hope that we will give them what they need. And we always do. But how, just how do you let a dog's teeth get so compounded with plaque that to remove it teeth must be extracted? How do you let a tumor grow to the size of a golfball? How do you let a body become riddled with fleas crawling over every inch of it? Is this the economy? Or is this indifference? Lack of the capacity to care, the capacity to love a being who depends on his or her person for his or her very existence?
I like to think the best of my fellow human-beings, but some days, I am not that charitable. Not after I see dog after dog who has been neglected physically or emotionally. Why bring an animal into your home in the first place if it is to become a burden, or less than a burden: a nothing?
However, I am heartened by the people working side-by-side at the shelter, volunteers and staff-members alike, to make life better for the animals who now reside there. There is good, it is here, I talk to them every day. And I thank goodness for them, for here is compassion and love embodied in human beings-- working to help the animals believe in people again, to help them feel what it means to be loved, to enable them to take comfort in the warmth of the blankets, in the nourishing food, in the clean environment. These things are every domestic animal's birthright. And although we cannot control what happens when an animal leaves our care, while they are here, we can make them feel that they matter, that they deserve everything we can possibly give them. That they are safe. And loved. At last.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Today I had my first experience with losing a shelter dog to death and for a number of different reasons this has affected me greatly today. A friend and fellow volunteer suggested that I write down my feelings and share that experience with you.
So I'm going to tell you about a dog named Buster. I did not know him very long, but just the few short visits that we shared together were very special to me. I do not know much about Buster's life before his arrival at the shelter, but by his condition I can only assume that his life was not good. Perhaps his few short weeks there were his only experience with actual care and love from a human being.
Buster arrived at the shelter sick and emaciated. His nails were so overgrown from not being walked that they curled under his feet, dragging along the kennel floor as he walked. His eyes were glassy with cataracts. His ribs protruded from his abdomen and his fur was caked with feces and urine. But despite all of this, when I first walked up to his kennel door he eagerly walked over to say hello, giving me a warm smile while he wagged his tail.
I wanted Buster to feel more comfortable - so I took him for a bath. After ward, a kennel attendant helped me cut his nails. When we were finished, I took him to the 'cement area' behind the kennel A building. We got to know each other while we sat on a soft blanket in the sun. He licked my face as I gently rubbed his back. I nonchalantly threw a tennis ball, seeing if he would have any interest and Buster immediately chased after it, prancing like a puppy. He would eagerly return with it in his mouth, dropping it into my lap. When he tired, he came over to me and I held him in my arms.
The last day that I saw Buster, I saw him out on a walk - perhaps his first real walk in years. I watched as he walked down the street towards Aquatic Park...his tail wagging the entire time. I thought that Buster was improving...that perhaps in a few months he would gain weight and become healthy enough to be adopted. I was wrong.
Upon his first trip to the veterninarian, it was discovered that Buster was very, very sick. So sick, in fact, that the only humane thing to do was let him go.
I do not have a photo of Buster - but even if I did have one, it wouldn't have captured the Buster that I saw. For I will not remember how thin he was, how clouded his eyes were, or how sick and sad he appeared to be. I will remember how his eyes seemed to light up when he saw that I was coming to visit him. I will remember his 'laugh lines' on his gentle white whiskered face. I will remember his youthful spirit. But most importantly, I will remember that despite the what his life was like with the person that was supposed to love and protect him, he was still happy. He still had a spring in his step. He still had nothing but kisses to offer.
I gain some comfort knowing that his last few weeks were good...that he had the chance to enjoy a walk, to play fetch, to have a warm bath, and a lap to lay his head on. It gives me some comfort. But not much.
I cannot save every dog or cat that comes into the Berkeley Shelter for there are far too many...but what I can do is make sure that their time here is full of love, attention, and care...that I can make it as comfortable as I can for them, whether they are here for a few weeks....or a year. And that is what I intend to do.
For those of you that have a dog, could you do me a favor? Could you go take them for a walk? Right now? Or maybe tonight, break the rules and let them sleep on the bed, just this once? Maybe buy them a new toy. Or even just give them a gentle pat on the head or a hug and tell them that you love them. If not for me, than do it for Buster.
Dear, sweet Jamie was a teeny bundle of matted fur, sores, and fleas when he arrived at the shelter in one of the night boxes. Frightened, overwhelmed, seemingly unhealthy, and shutdown - many at the shelter did not believe that Jamie could possibly be put up for adoption in his condition.
My first visit with him was both heart breaking and heart warming. When I entered Jamie's kennel, he attempted to move away from me, but was too weak to even move from his tiny cushioned bed. I sat by him, gently stroking his head, whispering words of comfort. He shivered, but did not pull away from my touch, which gave me hope that perhaps with time, Jamie would warm to volunteers at the shelter. I had noticed earlier that Jamie was not eating, so I had brought with me a small bowl full of wet food to see if he would find it more appetizing. He could not make it over to the bowl, so I brought it to him - placing it in front of him. Jamie smelled the 'delicious' food and slowly began to eat. Such a big appetite for such a tiny boy! He finished the entire bowl, licking his lips for more.
Slowly over the next two or three weeks, a small number of volunteers visited Jamie daily - showering him with love and affection that perhaps he had never experienced before. With each day Jamie improved....and by my next visit a couple of weeks later - Jamie had made a complete turn around! Jamie raced up to the kennel door, tail wagging to greet me. I knelt next to him, let him jump into my arms and lick my neck. What a happy, friskly, playful and friendly dog!
Thanks to Shelter staff and volunteers - Jamie is now a healthy and happy dog that has a second chance at life. He's also become an office favorite!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
But with each day Hansel improved. At the shelter he received plenty of affection supplied by the volunteers who came to visit him and take him for walks.
Yesterday, I went to visit him to see how he was doing. What a difference! Hansel raced up to the kennel door, his tiny nails clicking on the floor and his tail wagging with excitement. He was so GLAD to be outside! He explored during our entire walk together (down to the doggie water fountain in the park!) and seemed so much more relaxed.
It's amazing what a little t-l-c can do for a sweet lil' pooch.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Since I began volunteering 3 months ago, I have become quite attached to a number of the dogs at the shelter. One of them is Jody - she's my best girl and I adore her.
Jody is one of a kind – I have never met another dog like her and I doubt that I ever will. When I first met Jody, I was hesitant to walk her because she was a "red dot dog" (meaning her level of difficulty was significant...). I had only been promoted to a “red dot” walker a few days earlier and I thought she looked a little rough for me. I walked up to her kennel door and smiled at her as she jumped up and put her paws against my hands. She licked my fingers and wagged her tail – all the while giving a smile that said, “C’mon, you know you wanna!” I looked at her walk card and saw that she hadn’t been out in a few days. I immediately went to grab a collar and a leash!
The moment I returned, there she was waiting for me. I entered her kennel and was immediately covered with kisses of gratitude. She jumped up and put her paws on my chest and licked my neck and my face. She certainly had lots of energy to burn – hey, wouldn’t you after being cooped up for days? Seeing how excited she was I feared the walk would be difficult, but the first thing I noticed when we got outside was how her demeanor changed from jumpy, impatient dog to calm, confident, and completely at ease dog. All she needed was a chance to get away from the barking and howling and smell some fresh air. She moved along beside me like she belonged there and she looked back at me and gave me her biggest goofy smile.
Not only is Jody a fine lookin’ gal – she’s also a smart one. She sat for me, laid down, gave me her paw – she’s a natural on the leash! I couldn’t help giving her treats because she was just doing everything right (and c’mon, just look at that face!). She looked to me for instructions and I gave them happily knowing that she knew I was in charge.
Jody and I walked together for an hour on that first day – we played fetch (although she preferred ‘keep away’!) and she even let me take toys from her mouth or drop them when I asked her to (with a little persuasion, of course)! We jogged together, we cuddled, and we relaxed in the shade. She happily chewed on a stick while I ate my lunch and when I finished she was ready for more affection. She gave me kisses while I gave her hugs and by the end of the hour I knew that Jody was one special dog.
Every dog has it’s faults – Jody has hers too. She’s a big girl who likes to play rough and at times she doesn’t know her own strength! For this reason, Jody would need to be in an environment without younger children. She does get along well with other dogs, but she prefers the company of her human friends.
Jody is looking for her forever home – and if you take a chance with her, I’m sure you’ll love her as much as I do. She needs a kind, gentle, but firm handler who knows that things worth having are worth the time and work that you put into them. And believe me when I say that Jody is worth it.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Miss Ayla, taking a break from Kennel A15, was lookin' mighty fine today as we strolled through Aquatic Park. She was happy to show off her sleek blue coat and how well trained she is! Ayla can sit, lay down, stay, come, shake, and heel on command. What a good girl!
Avea from A20 is always a pleasure to walk. Such a sweet, loving, and eager to please girl. She's active, goofy, very loyal, and a wonderful dog to spend time with. She's been at the shelter since May - is October the month she'll finally find her forever-home?
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Our first meeting was difficult, I think, for both us. He had not been out in 4 days (because he had built up such a bad reputation!) so he was just so excited that he could not contain himself! It took over 5 minutes to settle him enough to collar him. He tugged on the leash with his teeth, he jumped around like he was on a pogo stick, and he got a work out before we’d even gone outside for our walk. Once we made it outside, however, Higgins truly relaxed. He walked like a gentleman, never pulling on the leash, looking back at me to check in. He was so well-behaved in fact that he received many compliments from fellow dog walkers. Because our walk had gone so well, I wanted to take him out again a few days later.
Our next few walks together were very similar to our first, some jumpiness – some tug-of-war, but with every walk he improved. Now when I go to take him for a walk Higgins sits and lays down for me as I enter the kennel. He sits patiently while I collar and leash him (never jumping or pulling on the leash) and walks down the ‘gauntlet’ of barking dogs completely unfazed, his head held high with confidence and his tail wagging with joy. Over 2 months of working with Higgins, I feel that he is a completely different dog. All that Higgins needed was consistency, patience, some training, and lots of love to become such a wonderful walking companion, whom I look forward to seeing every day I’m at the shelter.
It’s no secret that Higgins has wriggled his way into my heart! If you read his walk cards, you’ll see nothing but praise from me from the last 2 months. Higgins has made such remarkable improvement, that I wanted to reward him to a day away from the shelter. After his BadRap class (his 3rd class and he’s a natural!), we began our little adventure to Point Isabel.
Higgins rides like a pro in the car – he laid down the entire time, happily chewing on a rawhide that I purchased just for him. I think he enjoyed the ride so much that when we first arrived at Pt. Isabel, he didn’t get out of the car. He jumped down onto the pavement than happily jumped back in, as if he was saying, “Okay. More ride, please.” With the promise of a treat, Higgins followed my partner, Derek, and I into the park.
At the first sign of other dogs, Higgins pace quickened; a spring appeared in his step and his body squirmed with his excitement. All this boy wants to do is play! Pure puppy energy radiated from him and many of the other dog owners took notice. Higgins loved prancing in the grass and saying hello to all of the free roaming dogs. At one point we attempted to play in the water, but Higgins is more of a land lover, I think. One thing is for sure, Higgins has never been around so many dogs at once and he looked like he was having the time of his life!
After walking for 90 minutes, cuddling in the shade, eating treats, and sniffing butts to his heart’s content – it was time to go “home” to the shelter.
The ride back was difficult for me, not for Higgins – who looked completely at ease lying out on puffy blankets in the back seat. The whole time I kept thinking how nice it would be if every time Higgins got out of a car, it wasn’t to be returned to the shelter, but to be returning after a fun day at the dog park to a real forever-home. When we pulled into the parking lot, Higgins looked around at the surroundings and I thought, “Does he know where we are?” Apparently he did, because when he jumped down from the car he immediately recognized the Dalmatian-spotted fire hydrant in front of the shelter and jumped right back inside the car to lie down with his rawhide.
With a little coaxing and a few soft pats on his back, Higgins reluctantly followed us back to his kennel – #22. I went to the kitchen and made him a yummy stuffed KONG and ran to the laundry room to pick up his favorite rope toy before I said goodbye. He looked as happy and content as ever – his goofy tongue hanging out, his floppy ears, and his adorable patches. He licked my fingers through the kennel door as I said goodbye to him. I melted at the sight of him and gave him one last doggy treat for being such a good boy.