Guilty feelings set aside, I do feel satisfaction (and a little pride, I admit) in the fact that I do volunteer at all. And on those days when my cup overflows with joy and happiness to see the difference I'm making, I am reminded why I do it at all. Today I was volunteering at a local animal shelter. My job (if you can call it a job) is to play with the cats. I literally pet them till they purr and love them with all my heart so they can gain the confidence, social skills, and attention-seeking behavior so that hopefully they will be adopted more quickly. More than anything, I just want to make them feel loved. Some are abandoned, some are sadly given up by owners who would keep them if they could, some are feral kittens, and some are taken from their owners.
The shelter is a very nice, very clean, and very popular one. I feel like these animals get more attention than some at other shelters, perhaps also because the city is extremely pet-friendly. Despite this blessed fortune, the animals are still caged, with little room for movement. They are surrounded by other animals--sometimes extremely difficult for those that are more independent and don't like the company of multiple animals around them. I love kids--I do!!--but put a group of very young, very loud, jumpy children in a contained space with lots of poking and prodding of cats with little room to hide, and I'm just as on edge as the cats are. I'm always surprised more kitties don't snap at me than they do. I don't know how many of their nine lives they've seen come and go by the time they enter the shelter, but I do know that they need love just like any other creature. In spite of the odds, most of them are willing to trust again, to form bonds of friendship with volunteers and potential owners, and to put behind them a far from ideal past. Take Monkey, for example.
This charmer will sit in the window of his room watching the people outside, hoping one will come in to say hello. He talks back with sweet meows when I ask him how he's doing, and when he's not rubbing against my legs and caressing my hands with his face, he's trying to get in my lap where he'll sit and purr forever. What you should know about sweet Monkey is that he was burned by cigarettes on his back, by a previous owner.
In the photo above, you can see a white patch on his lower back; the hair will not grow back here, and the scar and discolored fur is a reminder of the ugliness that can be found in some of humanity. The friendliness, open heart, willingness to be affectionate again, and courageous spirit of Monkey inspires me. I might not have nine lives in which to spend changing the world (cue Eric Clapton, please), but if I can change the life of this cat during my one short life, then that one short life is all the more fulfilled. Some may call me silly, sappy, naive, or childish to use shelter animals as a way to promote forgiveness; however, I've seen animals that have been abused not turn into snarling, ferocious creatures but remain gentle creatures and in turn help change their owners' lives for the better. If you're ever in need of a great book on human and animal relationships, check out Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert.
Below are a few more photographs from the shelter today. Peace and joy to you, reader, and may Monkey and all of the other animals at the shelter serve as reminders of the power of love and forgiveness.
Above: Bella, a very sweet and photogenic one-year-old who loves head scratches.
"A little to the left..."
Above: Cisco, a black beauty (I love black cats) who meows to run free, eagerly trying to get your attention and catch your eye with those haunting green ones of his.