People often wonder why it seems most dog rescue articles are the kind that make you angry or sad. Doesn’t anything warm and fuzzy ever happen in a shelter?
While it is true that most of the stories written are based on some troubling event, given that nearly every dog in a shelter has a sad or tragic story to tell, there are still plenty of reasons to smile.
For certain, whenever a dog gets adopted there is reason to feel joy. Or, when the dog that's been mistreated or neglected shows that first glimmer of affection and trust as they experience true compassion and affection, there is a deep sense of satisfaction.
Then there are those extraordinary occurrences that happen without warning, and give a sense of purpose to the workers and a feeling of gratitude for having had the chance to make a difference in a dog’s life.
The following is one of those occurrences that have become known as “ a shelter moment.”
He is a volunteer at a no-kill shelter. Through his involvement, he gets the opportunity to experience a wide range of emotions: The sadness when meeting a healthy, lovable animal that is no longer wanted as part of a family; the elation from seeing that same animal chosen to be part of a new family, and watching him leave to start a new chapter in its life.
He knows that each animal in his care deserves all the attention and affection he can give to them. Those animals didn’t ask to be abandoned, neglected or abused. However, as caretaker of these forgotten animals, he knows they are in good hands and he is their link to what is still good about being a dog in a human world.
While he tries to not show favorites amongst the animals at the shelter, it is impossible to avoid a special bond with one or two of the dogs. It just happens naturally. And, so it did with Eva, a young Australian Shepherd who was surrendered by an owner who could no longer care for her. A beautiful, yet timid, young female, Eva was afflicted with “cherry eye”; a painless, but disfiguring condition of the eye that many dogs develop, but which can be easily fixed with proper veterinary treatment.
Throughout Eva’s stay at the shelter, they established a close friendship. She became “his dog” and he became “her person”. They played together in the yard and went for walks through the nearby trails. He comforted her in her kennel and talked to her about the wonderful life she would soon be living. In return, she gave him countless kisses and they shared genuine affection for each other.
After several weeks went by, Eva got adopted by a wonderful couple who pledged to give her the life she deserved, including getting her cherry eye treated. Although he did not get a chance to say good-bye to his friend, he was happy to know she had gotten the opportunity to move on with her life.
The days and weeks went by with new dogs coming and going, new friends to be made and new lives to be started. The kennels do not stay empty for long, so there is always plenty of work to be done at the shelter.
Then, four months later, Eva’s family returned to the shelter with some friends who were looking for a dog of their own to adopt. They brought Eva with them on a day when he just happened to be there working as a kennel volunteer.
As he came out of the kennel area and looked down the hallway, he spotted Eva with her people in the lobby.
Without pausing a moment, he got down on his knees and called her name, like he’d done so many times before.
Eva heard his voice and turned in his direction. Without hesitation, she raced down the hallway and into his waiting arms. He hugged her tightly, whispered her name over and over, and stroked all her favorite places. In return, she lapped at his face and pressed close against his body, all the while her tail wagging happily.
They stayed that way for several minutes, reliving their friendship and enjoying the familiar feel of each other. He finally got his chance to say good-bye and Eva had her chance to say thanks for being her friend while at the shelter.
Soon, he slowly got to his feet and took her leash in hand to walk her back to the lobby and her people. He thanked the owner for giving her the home she deserved and, with one final hug for Eva, went back to the kennels with a smile on his face and a tear in the corner of his eye.
If you’ve ever thought about sharing some of your time in a worthwhile effort, think about becoming a volunteer at a local shelter. You’ll be part of everything that is good in the human-animal relationship, even while coming face-to-face with things that’ll question your faith in humanity. It is challenging, heartwarming and life-affirming work, while offering the promise of your own “shelter moment”.
Thank you, Eva, for giving me a shelter moment.
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