2018 has easily been the worst year of my life. That being said, I haven’t allowed myself to have that mentality. Every experience in life comes with lessons. It would be easy for me to sit here and tell you who did what to me, how that made me feel, why I hate so and so, and… well, you get it.
Hate is easy. Negativity is easy. Hurt is easy.
Perspective is what transforms a victim into a victor and I am determined to be a victor!
So as challenging as it has been, I choose to look at it as the best year of my life.
I plan to talk about this much more in depth at a later time, but for now let’s just say that pain has opened my eyes to beauty. A rebirth, if you will. I’ve learned more about myself in the past five months than many learn in a lifetime.
Which brings me to this: my volunteer work.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to volunteer at my local shelter. I remember being 10 years old in the 5th grade, organizing a food drive as class president. I felt so fulfilled. That experience gave me the opportunity to use my strengths (organization and attention to detail) to help others. I felt good about myself and my abilities, and I felt good about giving back.
That opportunity and opportunities like that quickly pushed along my desire to volunteer at my local animal shelter. At the time I was too young to help in any capacity (per the shelter’s guidelines.) I remember thinking to myself, I’ll do it when I’m older.
As life goes, years passed and I became increasingly more busy with schoolwork, a job, a social life, relationships, getting married, moving 3,000 miles from home, and having children. You know, life.
It’s funny how life has a way of moving us away from our dreams if we aren’t careful.
So here we are. In 2018. I experienced a lot of trauma within a few weeks; physically and emotionally. Soul crushing experiences that I have had to do a lot of work to move past. With that darkness, came light. It brought me back to my center. I did a lot of soul searching which has led me here –> volunteering at my local humane society.
(Katie wouldn’t come out of her crate for weeks. Now she’s out with the others and thriving!)
To keep a long story, short (ish?) volunteering has always been my end goal. So why wasn’t I doing it now?
This morning I was working alongside the dogs and a thought occurred to me; so much of what these animals are going through mirrors where I am at in my life currently. Things that I am struggling with or learning about myself. It feels like every day I’m learning something new from them, so I thought it only fitting to share those lessons with you! Most of us have already learned these lessons in some shape or form, but it could benefit us all to receive a reminder.
With that, 5 lessons I have learned from shelter animals:
While I would love to say I quickly learned to see the beauty in the pain, I’d be lying if I did. It took a lot of hard work, reflection, and conversations with my family and my therapist. That is why I find it incredible to see how quickly the animals at the shelter are able to bounce back.
We see dogs come in starved. Others are abused. Older cats and dogs have been abandoned due to the passing of their human companion. Animals hit by cars, damage to their legs resulting in amputation, etc. You name it, we’ve seen it.
Do you think these animals lay down and sulk? No! They get up every day, walking happily around their enclosures, despite coming from horrendous conditions. They are resilient and it’s a healthy reminder to me that life happens for us, not
(Silver came in with a huge gash on her leg. She’s been healing and building up her confidence ever since.)
Those same animals that come in starved, abused, and injured leave with nothing but love and loyalty for their new human companions.
I spent 27 years old my life with no grudges. Sure, people hurt me, but my optimism allowed me to move past hurt quickly. It wasn’t until I was hurt in a very traumatic way that I had to learn what forgiveness truly means. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure that I’m all the way there. That being said, working with the animals has certainly helped.
My favorite thing about volunteering is watching the animals come in, struggling with trust and confidence, and then being able to work with them one-on-one on a daily basis, to build that confidence back up. It reminds me that forgiveness is a process. It takes love and attention to trust again, but if I trust the process I will get there, I will be stronger for it, and I will love even harder than before, because how can we truly learn to love without forgiveness?
(Bean and Snow are two senior dogs who came in after their owner passed away. They are scared of all the noise and are looking for a home together.)
Every day with these animals is not kittens and puppies, cuddles and rainbows. You see a lot of things that break your heart. Every single animal in the shelter has no business being there, and yet there will always be a person who brings them in.
Walking around the kennels the other day I noticed that the majority of the dogs were there because the family moved and wasn’t able to bring their dog with. I thought about how all these dogs have known are their families and now they are abandoned, watching person after person walk past their kennels. For a split second I became angry. My heart broke for them. My family has moved mountains to keep my dogs with me as a military wife. I couldn’t imagine the alternative.
But it was then that I realized that while I can’t imagine it, I haven’t lived it. I can’t pretend to know what people are going through if I haven’t walked a day in their shoes. I don’t know if these people gleefully surrendered their pet, or if they handed them over with tears streaming down their face, unable to catch their breath. For the record, I’ve seen both.
Does it hurt any less? No. But judgement has no place in my life.
(Cyrus came in with nerve damage and had his leg amputated. He’s just as happy as ever and the perfect example of resilience.)
Even Saints Have Haters
I’ve been a volunteer for about two months now. I have spent two months watching staff and volunteers give selflessly. These beautiful souls show up when no one else will. They show up on weekends, during hurricanes, and in the middle of the night when someone drops a stray at the fence.
Like many others, they are overworked and underpaid and yet, you will never see a happier, more compassionate group of people, making miracles happen to do all they can do for these animals.
Despite that, people have no shame smearing their name and reputation. I cannot even tell you the number of times I have heard that the shelter picks and chooses who they let in, turning away helpless animals. If one person is unable to drop off a litter of kittens, that person lets everyone else know that the shelter refused to help, claiming they are lying about availability.
What they don’t see is the establishment being at max capacity. They don’t see that a kennel becomes available for mere minutes after an adoption takes place before another animal is brought in to occupy it.
Seeing these rumors being spread is such an important reminder that if I’m listening to what everyone else has to say, I’m not truly living because at the end of the day, if you aren’t being talked about, you aren’t doing anything extraordinary; you are drifting through life and I refuse to be a drifter.
Face Adversity Head On
Take the number of times I hear lies about the shelter, double that, and you’ll get the number of times I hear
I would love to work at the shelter, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without taking home a bunch of animals.
I get it. Zero judgement from me. I want to take them all home too. Dare I say that most people who work at a shelter probably feel the same way?
If I allowed that thought process to stop me, it is possible that less animals would be adopted out.
You see, I’ve come to realize that the heartbreak I experience working with the animals is hard. Sometimes it seems unmanageable, sure. But you know what isn’t hard? Helping them get adopted.
I choose to focus on what I can do, as opposed to what I can’t. I get to know the animals. Even the ones that scare me. I learn their quirks. I build their confidence. Then I take those things I’ve learned about each animal and I work hard to match them with their perfect human.
Easy is avoidance. Adversity is working the problem, focusing on the positive outcome.
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Whether you are an 18 year old dealing with your first heartbreak, a college student struggling to find your place in this world, or a mother feeling lost in motherhood, I hope that you are able to find lessons in your pain. Even more so, I hope you are able to discover something to participate in that fuels your soul.
The Humane Society operates 100% by donation only. Without our support, they cannot keep their doors open. If you would like to donate, you can do so by visiting this page.