Adventures in Volunteering: Mascot duty
Volunteering at the Forsyth Humane Society has been a great experience overall. I mean, besides scooping the “bio-waste,” to put it delicately.
I spent most of my time playing with and walking dogs of all energy levels, backgrounds, and breeds.
And I spent some of my time in a costume, serving as the humane society’s mascot at community events.
Fun as it has been, I have also come to two unsettling realizations.
I have also concluded that with age and time since intake, the chances of an animal’s adoption decrease. A dog who has been there two months stands much less chance of finding a home than a new puppy. Puppies come and go quickly, whereas older dogs are often overlooked.Ideally, all dogs would find homes, and everything would be fine. A perfect world where all dogs have a lifelong home from birth probably will never exist. However, isn’t it morally wrong that the ones who have been caged up their whole lives are the ones that don’t get adopted?
Even if you don’t want to get a dog, you can still make a difference. Volunteer at your local Humane Society or shelter and interact with the animals there. You’ll have that warm feeling of having done something to help pets feel secure during a time of need. And aside from that, it can be fun, too.
Here are some of the things I did this summer at the Forsyth Humane Society, in Winston-Salem, N.C:
I walked dogs (picking up after them as I did so). If someone wanted to see what a dog was like, I’d let them walk the dog and I’d just follow and scoop. If they wanted, they could also take a dog into the playpen outside and play with them (as long as a volunteer or staff member was there).
I also did quite a bit of playing myself, tossing tennis balls to the ball-playing dogs, running with the more energetic ones down the trail, and if they were really hyper, I’d do a bit of doggie “bullfighting.” I’d hold a bone or something, and sidestep at the last second and try to avoid having the bone taken for a few minutes, at which point I’d let the dog grab on and it would become tug-of-war. It was great exercise for both me and the dogs, though I usually wound up being the one worn out first. It’s also quite fun, if you don’t mind one or two accidental scratches here or there from a paw.
But then there’s another side to the volunteering. That’s the real reason to go — the difference you can make in a dog’s life. For me, that feeling came while working with dogs like Truvy, a pit bull.I didn’t know anything about her history at the time, so I took her for a walk like I would any other dog. Someone (I can’t remember who) who was walking another dog said it was good that I was walking her because she was afraid of men, likely as a result of having been abused by one. After learning this, I set myself a goal for the day—to get Truvy to not be afraid of me.
I took Truvy to the end of the walking trail, where I sat down, and after about thirty minutes, she did too, but still cowered when I tried to reach out and pet her. When Truvy finally started to feel safe enough to lie down, a sudden boom (likely a truck on the overpass a couple hundred yards away) scared her, and we were back to square one. So we went to the playpen. It took about forty minutes to get her to try to pick up a tennis ball. She dropped it when I approached her and she ran to the corner. When I was told that it was time to put Truvy in back in her cage and let another dog in the playpen, I sat with her in the cage. She curled up in the corner, and I sat down next to her and started petting her. I sat with my arm around her for a while.
By the end of my two-hour shift (at least half an hour of which was in the cage), Truvy had curled up against me with her head on the inside of my elbow. So I wound up completely filled with that warm fuzzy feeling I mentioned earlier—except in my left arm which was numb from the elbow down.
I also enjoyed volunteering at the events like “Pups in the Park,” where dogs can come to the baseball game with you. Before the game, the Forsyth Humane Society bus, ROVER, parks in front of the stadium, and visitors are invited to walk through it and see some of the animals that are up for adoption.
Some of the volunteers walk the dogs around with “Adopt Me” harnesses on, and others hand out bags to people so they can pick up after their dogs. Then there are the people who sell T-shirts to raise money for FHS, and those who run the games that entertain kids while their parents look around.
And finally, there’s the all-important mascot duty. That was my job of choice at events — even though it got a little hot in there. I walked around in a dog costume, sometimes freaking out the real dogs. Lots of them barked at me, some sniffed me, and one grabbed my tail. Humans waved at me, hugged me and took pictures. Best of all, I got into a baseball game for free.
Do you have to go to these extremes or anything to make a difference? No. Volunteering can mean simply playing with a dog for a few minutes or taking it on a walk. These simple things help a dog learn how to interact with humans so that, when he or she does find a home, the transition can be smooth. It’s a fun, rewarding experience for both you and the animal whose life you improve with every minute you spend with them.
Can we have a utopia? Maybe not. However, we can donate an hour or two at a local shelter and make the world a better place — one pet at a time.
Editor’s note: Volunteers are the foundation of most animal shelters — if not the heart and soul, at least the arms and legs. In this new feature, we invite shelter and rescue volunteers to share their thoughts. If you’ve had an experience with a particular dog, or a particular program, if you’ve found new inspirations, learned some lessons or just want to write about the day-to-day work you do with animals, send your story along, with photos if you like, including one of yourself, to email@example.com.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 19th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adventures in volunteering, animal shelters, animals, dogs, essays, forsyth humane society, guest, guest posts, humane society, joe woestendiek, mascot, pets, posts, rescue, shelter, spca, submissions, volunteer, volunteering, volunteers