"Why do you work in a shelter? It must be so hard."
"Why do you work with the big/scary dogs? Don't you know that they could hurt you?"
I started volunteering when I was 13. Now, at 20, I can proudly say that I have never been bitten by a shelter dog. I have worked with dogs rescued from fighting rings, hoarding situations, puppy mills, and other terrible situations that many could only imagine. I love big dogs, especially dogs that get a "bad rap", such as pit bulls, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and many more.
Why do I work with these "big, scary dogs"?
I found myself in them, struggling to fit in as an awkward nerd in junior high school. These dogs were like me, nervous and scared of new people, putting on a tough face to hide the fear. They also just needed a friend to tell them that everything is ok.
Yes, these dogs often pull me, stretching out my arm and causing me to twist around in ways that only gymnasts would find comfortable.
That isn't what hurts. The bumps and bruises that come from dealing with animals are not what hurt.
The thing that truly, deeply hurts, ripping up pieces of my heart and soul, are when my four (or three) legged friends have to be euthanized. This week, I found myself feeling the same gut-wrenching emotions that I have felt all too many times before.
She was a sweet, older dog from a rather rough background who let me carry her around when she did not want to walk anymore. The only problem that I had ever had with her was that she let loose a giant, loud fart, right in my face when I picked her up. This sweet girl was put to sleep for behavioral issues, none of which I, nor her other friends, had even remotely seen. To me and my fellow volunteers, the saddest part of this whole situation is that this dog left this world never knowing what it feels like to have a home, to feel the excitement of the time of day when her owner would be coming home from work or the store to give her the love she had not felt in the first several years of her life. She left this world in the arms of those who loved her yes, but, nothing could compare to knowing a loving home. My fellow volunteers and I find solace in the fact that the shelter was a fancy hotel compared to the situation she came from.
After reading this, you may wonder why I keep going back, why, when my heart has been broken, ripped out, and stomped on so many times, I keep going back.
The answer is simple.
They need me and my fellow volunteers.
And we need them.