Simple answer to a difficult question

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How can you work there?

Ask anyone who works at an animal shelter, whether as staff or as a volunteer, and I bet they will all tell you that at some point they have been asked “How can you work there?” or “Isn’t it sad?” or “Don’t you want to take them all home?” The answers in no particular order are: No, I do and because I love it.

Animal welfare has come a long way in the last 20 years. Our shelter, and I’m sure the majority of modern animal welfare organizations, are not the stereotypical sad, dirty, dark places that you see in a commercial with a Sarah McLaughlin song in the background. We make magic happen on a daily basis, often with little more than good intentions. Our shelter is busy with limited funding. The staff and volunteers that work here are dedicated and hard working. They put their considerable talents to work for a cause that they believe in and are passionate about, and their reward is … hard to explain at times but let’s give it a shot.

Isn’t it sad? At times yes, but most days not at all. There are tears, but there is also compassion, empathy, joy, and lots of laughter. I challenge you to sit in a room with a bunch of kittens or puppies or watch a rabbit binky and be sad. Can’t do it. The conversations you overhear in the building alone will make you chuckle; many involving bodily functions, fluids or colourful names for body parts. Who knew there could be so many discussions about poop and parasites? We are hands on with animals that come to us from a variety of backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common; they need us. So we come in, roll up our sleeves and get to work. There are dogs to be walked, cats to be brushed and bunnies to hop. WC Fields famously said, “Never work with children or animals.” Sure, they can hijack your day and steal the limelight, but they also keep you grounded and make you smile.

Don’t you want to take them all home? Sometimes, but even those of us with hoarding tendencies eventually realize that you can’t. Do some of our volunteers and staff add to their family with shelter animals? Absolutely. Does everyone? Absolutely not. There are some that get a bit further into your heart than others, but we realize that we are part of their journey and not necessarily their destination. Our job is to get them ready for the rest of their lives and there can be a huge amount of satisfaction in that.

How can you work there? Easy. There is a sense of community in being in the company of people working towards a common goal; a sense of acceptance and peace in working with animals on a daily basis; a sense of pride in making a difference, however small, in the life of an animal. There are so many moments that make us smile and laugh that help carry us through the tough times. Most days there is nowhere else we would rather be.

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