Basking in the Company of Cats
A personal insight on a volunteering experience at an Animal Welfare Organisation
By Charlotte Ng & Tasmin Kaur
Volunteering has always been propounded as a cathartic process to improve overall health and a stepping stone to achieving inner peace. Many corporations and workplaces have initiatives in place to give employees time off to volunteer their services for the community. This purportedly brings about job satisfaction, increased commitment to their companies, and more meaning into their lives. Therefore, the CATCH! team made a trip down to the shelter of Causes for Animals, a non-profit animal welfare organisation, to experience it vicariously through the lens of a volunteer.
Tucked away in a corner of a rustic animal farm, excited barks greeted us as we stepped foot into the dingy kennel. This kennel houses about 30 dogs, some abandoned, previously abused or formerly strays. Despite their past, the relentless love and care the volunteers shower upon them have shaped them to be the affectionate and ebullient canines they are today, though the indelible traces of their past remain manifested in some dogs, who find it hard to integrate with humans or their contemporaries. Nevertheless, the volunteers never gave up on them or themselves.
Volunteers were going about their usual routine, which included cleaning the kennels first thing in the morning. As simple as it seems, it was probably one of the most difficult things to do especially when all the dogs were excited and jumpy to see us. The volunteers had to ensure that the dogs were in their respective pens and that they were clean and hygienic enough for the dogs to live and sleep in. This is crucial as dogs, like humans, have different personalities, temperaments and varied health conditions, and thus needed to be tended to differently. The dogs are profiled according to their name, gender, breed, the level of volunteer experience needed to manage them, any existing medical ailment, and their inclination towards humans and other dogs. Any mix-up would be hazardous, as some dogs have potentially fatal conditions, like heartworm disease, and some cannot be too excited lest they risk death.
Their daily regime starts with releasing the dogs into the larger enclosure, cleaning, by picking up manure and washing away urine, scrubbing and washing the floors, taking them out for a walk; and letting them frolic, bathing them, cooking and mixing food to feed them, playing and interacting with them, and of course, cuddling them.
Alongside spending time with the dogs, we were also given the opportunity to interact with the volunteers and find out more about their volunteering experiences. We came across many interesting individuals from different age groups who came together with only one thing in common- their love for animals. It was extremely heart-warming to see how closely-knitted the dogs were with the volunteers, just like a big family. If one volunteer were to shout the other’s name, you can see several other dogs barking back as though they were engaging in a conversation.
Many of the volunteers agreed that the dogs play a very important role in their lives as taking care and loving them helps to destress, keep their mind off their workload and commitments, and unwind. “It reduces my own stress and sharing my time with these dogs is something I look forward to. Coming here, seeing them so happy to see me, makes it one of the most fun times of my week,” says Prateek, a regular who has volunteered at the shelter for over 10 months. He is an animal lover, and confesses that spending time and having physical contact with them is therapeutic, and makes him satisfied and happy, in general.
Despite being bitten three times by the dogs at the animal shelter which he claims to be accidents caused by mistakes on his part, Prateek still continues to volunteer and strives to foster long lasting relationships with the dogs there. “You have to understand them and slowly, even the most fierce ones are pretty nice once you get to know them,” Alexia, a fifteen year old student volunteer, agreed. “I remember one of them, we couldn’t even pet him at first, or else it will bite, but now we are really close to him... and he’s one of my favourite dogs,” she says.
“For most of the volunteers, I guess we come here for the company, for a fun time and we do not see this as work. We’re very happy to be here,” says Prateek.
“The dogs get to be your friends!” exclaimed Alexia.
And perhaps, alluding to the way we interact with difficult animals, we should take a step back and re-examine our relationships with others, like that uncooperative and distant co-worker or that one relative or acquaintance we don’t get along well with. Just like how we first gain some understanding of the dogs, we should attempt to cultivate patience and understanding towards our fellow human beings and live with each other peacefully.
Being in the environment whereby everyone was motivated to help the dogs made us realise that many a times as human beings, we complain about so many different things but fail to see how lucky we are to have at least a roof above our heads. Helping others, leaves you with that tingling sensation of pride and satisfaction which makes us feel better about ourselves as positive emotions cloud over us, as we inch closer to inner peace. Helping someone is like giving a hug, you get a hug right back!
Spending one day out of our weekend was enough to leave us with the feeling of self-satisfaction, that we had put our time to good use and actually done something for someone else rather than for ourselves. It left us with a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and a whole lot of inner peace. As volunteers, when we put efforts into making sure that the animals are safe, healthy and well. It gives the dogs a sense of assurance that there are people who still care for them. This in turn, gives us the assurance that they are going to thrive and there is hope for them. We are hence thankfully locked into a cycle of being there for each other, evoking tranquility deep within ourselves.
The founder of the animal shelter, Mary Anne Lee, who works as a community manager and has five years of volunteering experience, shared with us that there are times whereby situations can be quite dire. “Sometimes if we do not bail these dogs out, they can be put down,” she says. Her duty to manage volunteers and keep the shelter running definitely brings about huge amounts of stress as it is a big responsibility to be looking out for both the dogs and the volunteers.
However, she expressed that the feeling of seeing these dogs go into homes where owners pamper their dogs, after rescuing them from the streets, is one that can never be substituted. “It makes me feel like crying as it is very touching to see these dogs come from situations where they have been sleeping on streets, rolling around in mud, scavenging for food… to coming home where owners cook for them everyday and love them unconditionally,” she says. She divulged that there is a constant fear of the dogs in their care remaining street dogs forever due to their emotional scars, until someone decides to take a chance on them, reviving her hope in humanity.