Dog days of summer volunteering
Nicole Michels | Tuesday, July 23, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sitting on the floor of my bedroom in Chicago, I clicked through the websites of animal rescue groups in Washington, D.C. Within two days, I would leave for my second summer in the Capitol, and if you ignored the clothes stacked haphazardly throughout my room, I seemed nearly ready to go. Still, I needed to find a way to notch five more hours volunteering with a charity group to reach a total of 20 hours. Because I am one of the biggest dog lovers ever to walk the planet, I decided to work with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. I offered to be a handler at an adoption event the next Sunday at the Petco in Falls Church, Va.
On Sunday morning, I blearily made the trek out to Falls Church, where transport volunteers arrived with dogs from boarding kennels and shelters. To my delight, my buddy for the day was a crazily energetic, awesome, brown Labrador mix named “Smiley.” This pup was two-years-old and had been returned because his elderly owners couldn’t manage a dog with his energy level. I was told that Smiley was pretty insane, but I quickly realized that he only needed to know that his human was the boss. After he figured that out, he behaved like a total gentleman. I kept him walking around the event to better manage his exuberance and introduced him to people who were interested in adopting a lively running buddy and to others who just wanted to say hello to such a handsome dog. Three hours passed before I had time to blink, and then sadly, I bid Smiley goodbye.
Grinning ear-to-ear, I walked back to the bus stop and couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have spent my morning playing with dogs and helping them to find homes. Smiley, I thought, represented why I loved dogs. Even if they act crazy, or a little mean, or very rambunctious, nine times out of ten it is because they were mistreated or confused by inconsistent directions from the people around them. Most behavior like that is corrected when the human shows the dog that the human loves him and will care for him. When I showed Smiley that I would give him treats when he behaved well, find him water when he was thirsty, and have his back with weird dogs and grabby toddlers, he started to trust me.
I decided to volunteer again the next week. I spent time with Sadie, a young Rottweiler mix who had been bred repeatedly for her puppies and subjected to harsh discipline. My third and fourth weeks I hung out with Teddy, a young, black, flat-coated retriever mix who was recovering from heartworms and getting carsick on the way to and from every event. My fifth week I skipped because my dad and brother came to visit, but my sixth week I fell in love with Jonas. If I could adopt a dog right now, I would have adopted Jonas. He is a one-year-old golden shepherd mix with black markings, and he represents the perfect balance between high- and low-energy. My seventh week, I cared for Scotty, a precious seven-month-old, black border collie and Labrador mix who was very nervous and shy but warmed up quickly when he saw that he was safe with me.
Working with Lucky Dog taught me about the goodness of people that give their time to help animals that have struggled because of people either too bad or too thoughtless to appreciate the responsibility that you shoulder when a dog places its trust in you. Thankfully, Lucky Dog is one of several organizations in D.C. that go above and beyond the call of duty to give these dogs however many chances they need to finally live happy lives with caring people.
My time with Smiley, Sadie, Teddy, Jonas, Scotty and the other dogs also helped me to reconsider the way I think about the humans I encounter. Dogs, like people, are almost always good by nature – when they are treated with respect and love. It’s up to each one of us to care for every human, canine, feline and every other living thing that we encounter. Only by coming together in love and faith can we help others to heal, and thus, united, we will finally find peace.
Contact Nicole Michels at [email protected]