Sunday, 7 February 2016

Lessons from Cardiff Dogs' Home

rescue dog image
I've rewritten this three times. I've told different dogs' stories, I've switched pictures and descriptions. Yet, I've struggled to encapsulate what I've really learned from volunteering. I'll try this one last time, and maybe I'll get somewhere.
I told myself I would go back to volunteering as soon as my bones were healed, as soon as my body would allow me to move. I told myself it was an exercise in recovery. After a harrowing few months, I was never going to be emotionally ready. I had to rip the stitches. I would never volunteer for the glory or humble brag, or just for something to do. I loved these dogs, and I wanted to make a difference, even if that difference was five minutes spent at the front of their kennel. Those five minutes can make their groundhog day a better day.
Ellie - Rehomed October 2015

Volunteering is more than dog walking, more than playing with puppies and seeing happily ever afters. Volunteering means seeing ugly things, feeling heartbreaks and disappointments in one big nasty hurricane. I can't imagine not doing this, and I can't imagine not loving every minute I can give to a dog that needs it. Silver linings are everywhere.
Tigger - Needs a home

The big lessons
When you start to see a dog show signs of breaking down, it's always difficult. It's human nature to assume the worst, and to abandon hope. You touch their paws through the bars, and you hope they see kindness. You have to learn to put faith in the dog, in the staff, in people and animals. When you see a dog come back from a dead end, it's the best kind of alchemy.
Trying to learn an animal that spends the best part of 24 hours in a metal cage is never going to be easy. Animals can be stubborn, and humans can be impatient. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and skill to work with abandoned animals, but volunteers and shelter workers do it everyday. This is how we get to see incredible things and it's what helps us believe.

A shelter animal doesn't know who you are. It doesn't know if you're going to hold it or hurt it. Trust is the greatest instrument in healing an animal, and as soon as they show it to you, you know they are fighting for something.
minnie neo mastiff
Minnie - Rehomed November 2015
Equally, you have to trust them. I went back to Cardiff Dogs' Home while I was still fragile and nervous. Minnie was the dog who helped me trust again, she would climb on my lap and nuzzle into my shoulder on anxious days. She would bounce up and nibble me softly and then run off, akin to a dog version of tag. Dogs and people alike have emerged from a world of violence and abandonment, they've walked sleepless roads and survived. Trust is a gift, and it doesn't come easy. Trust takes time.
cute rescue neo mastiff image

A lesson in humility
Nessa - Rehomed January 2016

I was sat in the summer house in the garden with a dog called Nessa. This was Nessa's second stay at CDH, and she was playful and affectionate. It felt cold as I was stood by her kennel and saw people pass her by. She had a cut on her nose from rubbing against the bars. Two days later, she was adopted. You never know how quickly things can change. 

I never knew how much these dogs could change me. The times we cry over these dogs are triumphed by the time we smile over them. I used to think I knew dogs reasonably well, I was confident around them and knew the do's and don'ts. After all, I'd grown up with more than my fair share of four paws. In hindsight, I knew nothing. There's always more to learn. 
Muffin - Needs a home

One thing people always say to me when they talk to me about volunteering, is "I couldn't do it."

People are adamant that they aren't strong enough. They say they love animals, but they just couldn't deal with the sting of each string as it pulls from their heart.
cute rescue puppy image

Every weekend, I wear the same clothes and the same face. I prepare for a day where we might win some, and we might lose something to the stupidity of the human race. Every time someone abandons their dog, I'm reminded that people need educating and that we all possess the power to help.

Volunteering is not about one person and what they do for animals, it never is. I didn't just help a dog, I didn't just make a tail wag. They gave me something in return without even meaning to, they gave me something to sleep to. I learned that nothing is ever really lost. Trust can recover. Patience can become habit. Faith can breathe beneath the fractures. 

We're okay now, we are safe and sound.