My First Stint as a BARC Volunteer

February 9, 2007

My first day as a volunteer dog walker at BARC was a little overwhelming to say the least. I’ve volunteered at shelters before, but I don’t think I was fully prepared for this.

Apparently three members of the City staff who clean cages had called in sick. The smell was awful. There are four wards in the south kennel. Most of the dogs in this area have been deemed adoptable. There were so many dogs all dying to get out of their pens to potty or play or to just get out.

After a brief tour and an overview of the guidelines, Barb, the volunteer-volunteer coordinator hooked me up with a special needs dog. Heidi was in a small portable pen out in the grass in the sun. She was maybe a Springer mix–liver and white and some tan coloring. Heidi had a neurological problem of some kind–possibly caused by distemper. Barb wanted me to spend some time with her and see how she reacted. I lifted Heidi out of her pen and put her on all fours. She immediately tipped over. I tried a few more times then she finally stood, a little wobbly, but she was on her feet. Once I got her going, she did pretty well. It was a joy to walk all around the campus with her. She seemed so happy. I spent about an hour with her–she walked, rested, drank, ate, and received a lot of love and praise from me. Afterward, I returned her to an area of the shelter for special cases.

The rest of my time was spent walking dogs, big and small, but mostly big. When their walk was over, I had to carry the majority of them back over the shelter threshold. They knew where they were going and they weren’t happy about it. Neither was I.

I left BARC that day covered with mud and hair and poop and whatever else. I was sad and felt overwhelmed–how can I help so many dogs?! How can anyone help so many dogs?!

I remembered something a woman I met at a UAN training course told me when I asked her how she coped volunteering at an animal shelter. She said “remember: one at a time.” She said if you look at the whole, it may appear impossible. That made perfect sense to me now. One person can save one dog. When that dog has been saved, go on to the next one. Don’t get overwhelmed by the situation.

I was excited to get back to BARC to volunteer the next weekend. I emailed Barb to let her know I was coming. I also asked about the “wobbly” dog, Heidi. I felt like Heidi was maybe my first “one.” I received an email back from Barb saying Heidi’s condition hadn’t improved and the very gentle, kind head vet had put her to sleep the day before. What a blow.

Despite the bad news, I was back at BARC the next weekend. I picked a whole row of dogs in the B ward to walk. It was fun. The runs were a little muddy and I ended up getting covered.  What a bunch of cool dogs! But there was one stand out. She was listed as a four year old Chow mix, but I’d guess she was a one or two year old Collie or Golden Retreiver mix. She was calm and sweet and a big snuggler. I called her Abby–at least that’s what I called her when Barb said give her a name–she’s going to be featured in the BARC Stars mass email. This is a photo of Abby.

Abby, another “one” I’m trying to save

I plan to go back to BARC to volunteer this weekend. I hope I don’t see Abby there. I hope she’s laying on a sofa snacking on treats and making someone very happy. Then I’ll have to help the next “one.”

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