I was entering the seventh grade when I first walked through the doors of the Meriden Humane Society. My dad was with me because we had previously determined that I was too young to start volunteering somewhere alone. He's not much of an animal person, so it meant a lot that he was there.
The first two people I met were Marlena, the director, and MaryLou, who worked with the cats. Because my dad was with me, Marlena let me walk a dog that day. I was thrilled because I had heard volunteers my age usually didn't walk the dogs. I can't remember the dogs' name, but I wish I could. He was a really sweet dog. When I got back from the walk, MaryLou trained me to clean cat cages and taught me the specific way things are cleaned and organized in the cat area. My dad doesn't like cats so much, but I was hooked.
After a few more times volunteering at the humane society, my dad asked if I was OK volunteering on my own. And, of course, I said yes. I was shy at the time, so I originally continued working with the cats and didn't say much to anyone who I hadn't met yet. Lucky for me, the people there were outgoing and always introduced themselves to me. The more time I spent there, the more my confidence grew. I started hinting that I wanted to work in all aspects of the shelter, and the staff started to notice that I really loved being there.
I started getting trained for all sorts of jobs around the shelter. I learned how to professionally answer the phone in the office, make copies of adoption applications, do laundry and soon enough, Heather agreed to train me with the dogs. By the time I was in high school they even had me walking in parades. I guess you could say I was happier there than pretty much anywhere else.
The staff and regular volunteers became my second family. I told my friends all about how wonderful the humane society was and how I finally found a place that I felt like I fit in. They knew that I wanted to go into veterinary medicine so they kept me updated about what was medically occurring with the animals. They explained why declawing is so horrific and they explained the answers to all of my obnoxious veterinary questions that didn't even always pertain to the shelter. As people as the people there were, taking care of the animals, they always had time for me.
I have volunteered at countless events. I have helped paint the shed and small dog room. I have assisted with medications and I have sat between two food aggressive dogs to ensure they don't go at each other's throats when their dinner was brought out. I would call my mom and beg her to wait to pick me up from the shelter so I could be there to make sure nothing went wrong. I have the instructions for food preparation for the small and large dog rooms memorized by heart. I couldn't even begin to explain how many times I've tried to help organize the back storage room or how many times a cat has tried to escape into the lobby with no success. I could navigate the shelter backward with my eyes closed, and I haven't even been there for months.
As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that a lot of my best memories took place at the Meriden Humane Society. Giving flea baths to kittens in a small area doesn't sound like a good experience, but it made me so happy to know I was making a difference. Socializing with customers and helping unload donations from cars was always a unique experience. Having people with life experience to talk to was amazing and the bonds I formed with some of the animals are irreplaceable.
I don't know how it happened but on my 16 birthday, I was able to adopt my favorite cat from the shelter. Even my bad moments were good moments when I was there. It was heartbreaking to see animals come in abandoned or mistreated, but it was more rewarding to be a part of their rehabilitation and adoption process. There is always risk working with animals, but my only "serious" injury was when I sliced my thumb on a dog food can and needed stitches. That turned out to be a funny story. I was "famous" for a while at the shelter for saying "the can bit me" as I was trying to explain what happened to Heather.
I miss the Meriden Humane Society. It is a great place full of better people. At times the staff can be misunderstood but everything they do is for the good of an animal. I miss Marlena, I miss Heather, and I miss all of the staff and regular volunteers. I miss working with the animals and I miss making memories with my second family. To anyone from the Humane Society who is reading this, I promise that I will visit next time I'm home. I love you all.