Saturday, March 7, 2009

Finally! Volunteering

So here it is March, and I finally put in some volunteer hours. I'm beginning to think that rather than once a month, I should be shooting for once a quarter. Gotta start somewhere.

For new-ish readers, one of my New Year's resolutions was to get back into volunteering on a semi-regular basis. As with most resolutions, this one hasn't been going so well. But I'm still trying!

To give you some background, I've been a volunteer with the Humane Society of Charlotte (HSC) for 2 or 3 years. I knew that soon after I bought a house, I would want a dog, and as a sort of payback for all the Humane Society would be doing for my future pet, I wanted to put in some hours. Plus, it would give me a chance to look over the prospects! For about 6 months, I was there almost every Saturday, taking a dog to a city park for exercise and socialization.

Once I adopted Rosie, I wanted to add an activity to serve my fellow human beings. Thanks to Rosie's amazing temperament, pet therapy was a natural fit. Through my vet, I hooked up with a greyhound rescue group which was very welcoming to a short, broad, long-haired dog completely unlike a greyhound. We got certified through a HSC staff member, and for about a year, we went once a month to one of two rehab/nursing homes.

And then, like most people, I got distracted. First, I had to balance out my HSC and therapy weekends. One week I had a cold--didn't want to visit the elderly with weak immune systems. Later, I got a "new" car--not so comfortable loading a shelter dog into it. My parents visited, the farmers' market beckoned, it was too hot/cold/ see how it goes. I am trying to fight all this and find a way to get in my volunteer hours without sacrificing my rest/Miss Chef time.

I'm beginning to learn that the best way for me to do this is to sign up for a specific event. So a couple of weeks ago, I said "Sure, I'll take a dog to the Spring Home & Garden show!" The HSC is sharing a booth with the Invisible Fence company. Only those who have gone through the HSC's special Walk to Adopt training are allowed to take dogs off the property, so I figured they could use all the volunteers they could get.

Thursday, I got the email with the details about who, when, where. I downloaded the map of the site and thought "Uh oh, what have I gotten myself into??" The show is huge! Three separate buildings with thousands of booths for vendors. I had been to another venue on the same site, and remembered the entrance off of highway-like Independence Boulevard was a little confusing. Great, now I get to do it with a strange dog bouncing around in the back seat. Second thoughts? Definitely, but it was too late to back out now!

So, Saturday morning I filled two bottles of water, put a sheet over my back seat and donned my neon-green volunteer shirt. (I really don't like this new color they picked, but at least they get noticed!) I drove up to the HSC and met Mason, a two-year old standard pinscher.

It was pretty obvious Mason had been taught to walk on a leash, which is unusual for shelter dogs. He was pretty quiet and sweet, but showed absolutely no interest in jumping into the car. Once I lifted him in, he stepped up onto the console between the front seats. "Oh no you don't; you're not riding up there!" I'm used to much bigger dogs--Mason's about 20 lbs, I'd guess--and quickly found the arm-across-the-gap move I usually use on HSC dogs was no good. He'd just duck underneath!

I did get him lifted back into the back seat, but it turned out he was very unsteady in the car. Most dogs will sit or even lie down when they start tumbling around from braking, accelerating and turning, but he didn't figure it out. He was not having a good time back there, and I was too busy trying to find my way to do much to help him.

By the time finally Mason decided he'd best be up front with me, I was in the process of getting lost on Independence Boulevard. I did get off, but then took a wrong turn, and ended up on Independence again, headed the wrong way. I was beginning to get very frustrated. Mason, sensing my need for comfort, decided he should crawl into my lap. "Yes, dear, you are truly a sweetheart, but not now!

I eventually found the right parking area...$6, please. I only had $8 cash on me. I wondered what kind of lunch I could get for $2. Oh well.

I parked a quarter-mile from the building(s), grabbed my water bottles, directions and, of course, Mason's leash, and started to hike. Please note: it was hard enough wrangling a dog and two water bottles, so there will be no pictures of the actual event; a camera was beyond my skills!

I found the entrance fairly easily, but once inside, was completely lost and overwhelmed. People streamed by in every direction, past a disorienting assault of sight and sound. I have a pretty good sense of direction, but had no idea where I had come in, or which building was which. Poor Mason followed me gamely; that's one of the things I love about dogs, they're so trusting. Fortunately, as I turned in a circle, I realized that I was standing smack dab in front of an information booth. I told you I was disoriented!

After the nice information lady pointed me in the right direction, I quickly found my way, and soon spotted several other neon-green shirts. There were two other shelter dogs there, and we had a fairly small space to share. The Invisible Fence people were very friendly and of course wanted to know all about the dogs--they ended up doing almost as much PR as we did!

Poor Mason was quite overwhelmed at the noise and number of people. He's not more than two feet tall, and having all these giants surround him and start petting him made him a little shy. But the HSC staff carefully select the dogs for these events, so he patiently put up with his groupies. He turned out to be quite popular; people asked the other handlers about my dog, but nobody asked me about the other two! We all answered lots of questions about Mason and adoption in general; in two hours we handed out all our brochures. One woman came back two or three times to see him; she just couldn't get enough!

Toward the end of our three-hour shift, Mason was getting tired. I took him outside a couple of times, but it took forever, since people kept stopping us to ask about him and the HSC. He was a game little doggie, though. Surrounded by a group of kids about 10 years old, he held his own. At 3:00 he was ready to go, though, and I was too. I was starting to lose my voice by shouting to be heard over the ambient noise. "He's a German Pinscher. His name's Mason. He's about two years old, so this is about as big as he's going to get." I should've written it on my neon-green shirt.

Finally, it was time to head back "home." As I grabbed my two water bottles, along with the can of Coke another volunteer had kindly gotten for me, and the leash, I was never happier to have a small, trained dog on that leash!

You'll be happy to know that the drive back to the shelter went much better than the drive there. At least for me. Mason still didn't have his sea legs, and although he started out in the back seat...
(No, I did not take this while driving!) He actually kept trying to climb onto me, and we finally compromised with my right arm wrapped around him kind of backwards, trying to steady him as we turned and braked. They didn't include any of these skills in the volunteer training! He really is a sweet, affectionate little guy, and I have to admit to a brief flicker of a thought through my brain: "Wonder if he'd get along with Rosie?" It is so hard to bring these dogs back to the shelter after spending an afternoon getting to know them!

However, when I brought him back into the kennel area, it was obvious he's a favorite of the staff. Everyone who saw him called him by name. On my way out, I stopped by the front counter to see if anyone had come by from the show. Yes, the first woman who had seemed really interested in him had already put in an application for adoption. I told the adoption coordinator "There are going to be two or three other people who will be disappointed to hear that!" But just getting them into the shelter will guarantee they'll take a turn around the kennel, and you all know what happens from there, right?

On the way back out to the car, I saw something that made me run back inside and say "How do I get one??"

It's a car window decal with the HSC logo on it...and that horrid neon green. But I don't care, I still want one! Turns out it was just a test run--this was a staff member's car. But she told me to email the volunteer coordinator and let her know I'd buy one, so they should sell them.

Hey, if you read this whole post, I thank you. And now, I challenge you to go out and spend an afternoon supporting a cause close to your heart, and share it with us.

Epilogue: I finally got home about 4:00, and had lunch. After which, naturally, I had to take my own dog for a walk. That's the other tough part about volunteering--two walks in one day! I did point out to Rosie that this was proof of how much I love her, taking my sore feet and legs out again. Don't know if she got the message...but with those big brown eyes, who cares!


  1. I'm exhausted just reading about your day, but hurray for you! You did such a great thing. Mason is a cutie pie and I hope he finds a happy home.

  2. Great day and thank you. I volunteer for our local Humane Society too but like you my time is limited so Mike and I help with a couple of events each year. We have a utility trailer so most of our volunterring is behind the scenes. We're sometimes the setting up tearing down people. Exposure is everything for the homeless animals.

    We have also fostered animals especially when the manager gets in a farm animal.

    good luck Flart.

  3. Hmmmm. I think volunteering is what I'm missing! One of the most interesting - and fun - volunteer jobs I had was at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo when I lived in Maryland a few years ago.

    Good for you!
    Nancy in Atlanta

  4. What a great, but tiring, day. It sounds like Mason is well on his way to a forever home, and YOU made that happen. Kudos!! And hey, if they start selling that decal, I totally want one!! Right now my dog themed car window decal says "My greyhound is a democrat" but I could use a rescue themed one too!

  5. Sounds like a really amazing experience. And I totally would have fallen in love with Mason!!

    I'm giving you a blog award- so swing by and pick it up!

  6. I loved this post! Mason is such a cutie. It sounds like a long, tiring day but good for you for doing it!


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