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Tall Drink of Nerd: Once Bitten


a blogumn by Amy Robinson

Volunteering has always been something I knew I wanted to do.  On the handful of occasions when I have had the opportunity to donate my time, an elated feeling of helping others followed me for days.  In particular, volunteering at an animal shelter has been on my to-do list for years.  I kept putting it off for a few reasons.  I thought I didn’t have the time, but mostly I was terrified of bringing home every sad-faced, sweet-hearted critter who would steal my heart.  I could see an Animal Planet special in my future, featuring my face as a crazy hoarder, surrounded by a puff of furry cast-offs.

In December, our 18 yr old tabby cat, Munchy, passed on after a prolonged battle with, many, progressively more expensive, medical issues.  That loss, and the loss of her sister, Weasel, the previous year, caloused my heart.  Loving and then losing a friend who had been with me nearly all of adult life was too hard.  I was determined to not feel that pain again.  No more new pets.

We decided to donate Munchy’s left-over medical supplies to a shelter that our vet suggested, The Lange Foundation.  It’s a no-kill shelter.  They rescue death-row animals (dogs, cats, horses, etc…) from City & County facilities, and then gives those pets shelter as long as it takes to find them a forever home.  When I dropped off the medical goods, I was drawn to the large, well-equipped cat pens near the front desk.  Like furry orphans trying to get a visiting couple to take them home, several felines skipped toward the fencing and yelled for me to stick my fingers through the wire.  They yelled and rubbed and gazed needily at me.  I knew they just needed a little attention, and I had a little bit of time.  It was time to think of somebody else for a change, to get my mind off of me, me, sad-little-me.

So I got over myself, picked up the phone and volunteered.

I had to wait 3 months for the next training.  On training day, Lilly gave us a 30 minutes lecture of the rules on walking the dogs, then I walked the most adorably energetic Chihuahua.  But I really wanted to socialize those cats!

So after the dog walkies, I headed into the cage with the FIV Positive kitties and promptly fell in love.  He was a 10-year-old orange tabby named Snaggle.  His name came from a long-healed broken jaw, which left his lower canine jutting at an angle from his lower lip.  He had been very vocal since we came in an hour ago, and now he settled into my crossed legs, purred loudly and fell soundly asleep.  That was where Seen found me when he came to pick me up ½ hr later.  With a kitty, rescued from the South LA Shelter euthanasia room, melting my heart.

As a man who is a sucker for felines, (see the two who live in my house now, both of which gained residence due to Seen) I convinced my husband to come volunteer with me for a few hours a week.  My logic was; if two of us could brush, pet and play with cats at this shelter, we’d cover double the animals in the same amount of time.  He immediately fell in love with Snaggle as well, that cat has seriously hilarious personality.

Out of the 68+ cats at The Lange Foundation, we both have our favorites.  They steal our hearts every time we walk into their cages. Luckily, the amazing staff at Lange calls the landlord of whoever is adopting a pet, ensuring the animal won’t be ditched due to lease issues.  We have 2 cats now, and 2 cats are allowed on our lease, so there is no danger of taking home everyone we love.  I’m pretty sure most private shelters do this, in case the spector of hoarding was keeping you away from volunteering.

There is something nice about giving love freely to needy creatures and having them give it back with no other expectations.   While nothing is ever completely safe about loving, loss is a fact of life, I feel happy to be here.  In all honesty, there were tears in my eyes when I left on the first day, but now I am more elated than sad.  I know that we make a small bit of difference in the lives of the overlooked.

So if you’re thinking about volunteering, but hesitating because of time or worry, get off your duff.  Most animal shelters always need dog-walkers or cat socializers.  I also have friends who work with Foster Kids aging out of the system, another who works with the elderly, another on a literacy program for young girls.  There are so many things to do, it’s easy to just do it.  Trust me, it doesn’t hurt, even when the kittens gnaw on your fingers.