I Can’t Adopt a Dog, So I’m Volunteering at a Shelter

My dad ended my dream of taking home Fiona the Weimaraner. But I kept thinking about the shelter.


Editor’s Note: Kelly Dougher is a contributor to Dogster’s sister SAY Media site, xojane.com. This article first ran on xoJane, but we’re rerunning it (with permission!) so you readers can comment on it.

I’ve had a lifelong yearning for a dog. For too many childhood birthdays, I screwed my eyes shut and resolutely wished for a puppy as I blew out the candles on my cake. Of course, I never got my wish, because a puppy is at the top of the list of things you don’t get when you have seven siblings.

Earlier this year, I had moved back home from college and suddenly had a large yard, a job, and (some) disposable income. My younger siblings were old enough to handle taking care of a pet, and my mom was all for dog adoption. There was just one obstacle: my dad.

This story has the unwanted effect of making me feel like a 5-year-old kid all over again, taking me back to when I begged my dad to let me bring home a tiny English Springer Spaniel puppy (I can still smell its sweet, sweet puppy breath, almost 20 years later), so I’ll keep it short.

He put his foot down.

He had good reasons, but the disappointment still hurt — especially because, like a fool, I had already gone to the local animal shelter to see who was up for adoption. I was all ready to adopt a beautiful, older Weimaraner named Fiona. I fell in love with her grey coat, her amber eyes, and her calm manner. I went home that day dreaming about Fiona and I going on long evening walks together through the woods, having her lying in my bed warming my feet in the winter, even thinking about the tears I would inevitably shed in a few years when my aged companion finally passed away. I will freely admit that my pet-owning daydreams skew towards a Les Miserables degree of melodrama. (Full disclosure: I’ve never seen any version of Les Miserables.)

After my dad said no, my daydreams of taking Fiona home gradually faded away, and as the weeks went by, I started to tear up less whenever I saw a dog food commercial.

My memories of the animal shelter stuck with me, however.

Sadly, no animal shelter is a heartwarming place. There are the concrete floors, often soiled; the din of huge dogs barking as they try to leap up and over their mesh cages; the sad (or maybe just bored) expressions in so many dogs’ eyes. It’s the real-life version of those awful late-night animal shelter infomercials that used to spur me to go on a wild-eyed search for my mother’s credit card when I was a kid.

“BUT THE THREE LEGGED KITTEN LOOKED SO SAD!” I’d wail while being marched to my room.

The difference now is that I have my own credit card. So at Christmas, I joined my co-workers in donating to the local animal shelter. It still didn’t feel like I’d done enough, though, so a couple of weeks later, I filled out some forms and dropped them off. I intended to volunteer to walk the dogs at the animal shelter.

A confession: I am not big on volunteering. This aversion can probably be attributed to a bad experience I had in high school, when I volunteered at a stable that gave disabled children horse-riding lessons. I was painfully shy and didn’t know anything about horses, and all the other workers and volunteers were too busy to deal with me. Most of the time, I was given a broom and told to sweep.

Whenever I remember that time period, I don’t really have any memories of pride or gratification for having helped people. It’s mostly feelings of being awkward, useless and super cold.

Despite those old fears, I started this week. I was worried about being in the way. I was worried that I wouldn’t know enough, or that I wouldn’t be particularly helpful. I was worried about being ignored or snapped at by busy volunteers who knew what they were doing. I was worried about having to clean up really nasty dog poops. I was worried about falling in love with all the dogs I’m not allowed to bring home.

All of those things happened. But you know what? It wasn’t the worst thing ever. For every curt volunteer, there was a friendly one who explained things to me. I am not yet the most efficient or helpful volunteer, but I’m going to keep showing up until that changes.

All of the dogs and cats there are sweet and lovable, and I feel bad for them. They’re stuck in a bad place. If I could, I would adopt all of them. I figure that the next best thing I can do is to show up in my spare time and take them out for some fresh air or otherwise give them attention.

I’m still bummed I can’t get a dog right now, but I like to think that one day, my pet will be sitting in some animal shelter somewhere waiting for me. And I know I’m really going to appreciate the person who waits with her.

Got a Doghouse Confessional to share? We’re looking for intensely personal stories from our readers about life with their dogs. E-mail confess@dogster.com, and you might become a published Dogster Magazine author!

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