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Have You Hugged a Shelter Worker Today?

Note: I’ve totally lost control of my to-do list and haven’t been able to carve out some time for writing new stuff, so I thought I’d share an older piece I wrote a few years ago for StubbyDog (originally published Oct. 2011). Be back soon!

They stand at the doorway each morning and take a deep breath. The dogs, recognizing that they’re no longer alone, have erupted in a cacophony of demands for food, bathroom breaks, attention. Overwhelmed by the noise, hearts pounding, trying to pick a direction to go in first, they say, “I’m coming just as fast as I can everybody. I love you all this morning.” And then they start running.

They weave through the chaos: an injured dog, a hysterical family of a missing pet, an animal control officer with a van full of strays, new volunteers who need training, a call to an adopter that didn’t show to pick up their new dog, a victim of cruelty in desperate need of medical care.

There are more dogs than there are kennels.

photo by Melissa Lipani

There are adopters to meet with, kennel cough to be treated, biographies to write, veterinarians and trainers to consult with, surgeries to find funding for, rescue groups to reach out to, documentation of cruelty cases to fill out, baths to be given – hard, painful choices to be made.

The daily work continues: Kennels must be scrubbed, food delivered, medications carefully administered, evaluations to be completed, kennel charts filled out, yards to be cleaned.

There are 24 hours in a day and 100+ hours of work to be done.

They feel tiny in the presence of this mountain of work and the countless souls they’ve been trusted to care for. How fast can they work, for how long, and will it make a difference?

But just when they feel like they’re slipping under water, it happens: one great day.

A long-term resident finally gets adopted, a local business stops by with a donation of a new washing machine, the dogs they feared wouldn’t make it find foster homes, a child’s birthday party brings toys and treats, an adopter calls to tell you how happy they are with their new dog, a volunteer brings coffee and hugs.

They are flying on the wings of this good day, fueled by the hope that there will be more just like it. Powered into another work week, trusting that, if they keep their heads up and their feet moving forward, it will get better.

They are a vital part of our community. The safety net for our pets. The beating heart deep in our collective hope for a better world for our animals.

They are the magicians, the master jugglers, the contortionists, working endlessly to pull one more miracle out of their bag of tricks. One more life saved by their weary hands. They are the underpaid, overworked operators working the lines until there is a happy ending.

They are doing the work most of us could never bring ourselves to do, yet we depend on them to care for the animals in our communities. We demand more from them and they show up for the challenge. They are willing to take the heartbreak, the lost lives, the failures, the sadness and exhaustion. Because they know the dogs can’t make it without them.

They are our determined hands, our compassionate hearts, and they need our support.

They are shelter workers and they’re everyday heroes.


2013 note:  I think volunteers and foster families are the bomb too and wrote tributes to them back in 2011. You can find them here and here

  1. Debi #

    A wonderful tribute. I’ve volunteered in the past and want to do it again. Had a Jack Russell with a Microchip turned in. Called owner. He’d been missing for 6 months from other side of large city. She cried, he cried, we all cried. Chip your dogs. Put a tag on their collar with your name and phone number. Help them help you.

    April 6, 2013
  2. susan sills #

    Great tribute…thank you!

    April 6, 2013
  3. Amy #


    April 6, 2013
  4. BJ PUP #

    This is a beautiful tribute.

    April 6, 2013
  5. This was lovely. Made me tear up a little.

    April 7, 2013
  6. Aims #

    My heart.

    April 8, 2013
  7. MsMurgle #

    My heart.

    April 8, 2013
  8. Loved this – thank you! We’ve been volunteering extensively at our local shelter for five years, and are amazed by some of the longtime, dedicated staff who do such physically and emotionally exhausting work, and obviously care so much about animals whose backgrounds are heartbreaking. Seeing awesome adoptions happen for pets with sad pasts seems to make it all worthwhile for these staff, though. It’s what keeps us coming back to volunteer, too.

    April 9, 2013
  9. A reblogué ceci sur Le Grand Câlin and commented:
    Merci à tous les bénévoles des refuges qui travaillent dans l’ombre mais qui permettent à ces milliers d’animaux d’avoir une meilleure qualité de vie en attendant leur familles pour toujours.

    April 13, 2013
  10. Very nice, I’ll be volunteering at Sonoma Humane today and hugging some humans for sure!

    April 26, 2013
  11. Reblogged this on the balanced pack.

    May 23, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Thirty Days of Thanks: The Lucky Ones | Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups
  2. Stop Neglecting Yourself: You’re Too Important To Ignore | notes from a dog walker
  3. I Heart Volunteers | notes from a dog walker
  4. I Heart Boundaries: Compassion Fatigue Education | notes from a dog walker

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