A few months ago I had one of those weekends where I woke up on Saturday morning and I just knew it was going to be one of those days where things just seem to be a little bit off. You know? The morning after you don’t get a good night’s sleep, so you’re a little bit cranky? Maybe you didn’t make any particular plans for that day so you wake up and think do I really have to get out of bed? Well I had one of those mornings and after laying in bed and feeling bored and unamused, I decided to get up and do something that I knew would make me happy and energized.
I got into my car, drove to the nearest gas station, and decided to embark on a mini adventure. On my drive, I still felt a little bit off, like I would rather just turn around and lay in my bed for a little longer instead, but I decided to keep driving. I knew that future Marta would not regret this. Soon enough, I turned onto GoodPuppy Lane (if I were to have a favorite road name, this would be it!) and I arrived at FOHA, Friends of Homeless Animals. A few weeks earlier, I discovered this animal shelter through a friend, and after attending a short training, I became a dog-walking volunteer. Since it was my first time walking a dog there, I asked a more experienced volunteer for some initial guidance, to make sure that I did everything correctly. I wouldn’t want to accidentally leave a door open and have stray dogs running around the property!
I grabbed a slip lead from the office and the experienced volunteer walked me over to a row of dogs that she thought would be manageable for a new volunteer. As I walked in the area where all of the dogs were held, I found it heartbreaking how much all of these dogs wanted to be let out and walked. When the 8 or so dogs saw me walk in, they all started jumping up against their gate and barking. Since I was a bit overwhelmed, I was looking for a calmer and smaller dog, that I was confident I could walk by myself. That’s when I saw Eleanor. Eleanor is 1 year old beagle mix. She was the sweetest! You could see the excitement in her eyes when she saw me, but she was so calm and sweet that as soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew I would walk her (and I wished I could adopt her then and there!!).
Now that I had picked a dog, it was time to put the leash on the dog… how hard could that be?
Without much trouble, I was able to slip the puppy’s head through the slip lead. Well… I actually ended up letting her two front paws go through the slip lead too so essentially at this point the leash was around the center of her body, oops! Luckily, the more experienced volunteer helped me out by lifting Eleanor and getting the slip lead just around her neck. After this, Eleanor and I were ready for our walk together!
One of the things I really enjoy about this animal shelter is how large the property is and the amount of space they have for walking and playing with the dogs there. I first took Eleanor to a play area nearby, so she could play with some toys and run around in the fenced-in area. She then came over to me and laid right on my lap. Of course I started petting her and rubbing her belly as she was smiling and panting. In that moment, I forgot about how my morning didn’t start off great, or how sometimes I worried about silly little things. In that moment, I felt pure happiness and love from this 1 year old puppy that I had just met. It’s crazy how that happens; a puppy I had just met made me feel so loved and valued and completely turned my mood around. After this cuddle session came to an end, Eleanor and I took a walk through one of the paths that circles through the woods on the property.
I couldn’t seem to get the giant grin off of my face. It was so cute to see Eleanor so excited and full of energy. On the way to the path, she lead me in between the parked cars, instead of walking along the pavement. Of course she had to stop and sniff all of the flowers and plants and wooden logs in sight. Although I giggled as I watched this silly pup, I actually realized something pretty important. As a twenty-something with a job and regular schedule, I feel like I’m always rushing and stressing. In a rush to get to work, to be on time to a meeting, to make the next train, to get a seat on the bus. Always rushing! In our time together, Eleanor wasn’t in a rush at any point. Although I don’t know what she went through before coming to FOHA, she didn’t seem to have a care in the world at the moment. Once I let go of my thoughts and just enjoyed the time with Eleanor, I realized this was probably the most at-peace and relaxed I had felt all week, or even all month.
Although FOHA sees their volunteers as important assets to the organization, I think the volunteers definitely gain something from the dogs as well. To each person his or her own, but for me, the 1 hour I spent with Eleanor felt like a therapy session. I came to this place feeling stressed and anxious and unsure if I even wanted to be there but I left feeling calm and happy and excited that I gave one of the puppies a chance to spend time outside. I felt better without ever talking about what was on my mind. I think the effect that dogs have on humans is so powerful and since I never had a dog, I never quite understood this until that day.
Now I know that not everyone is dog person. Some of us like cats, or hamsters, or fish, or birds, or reptiles. Or maybe you don’t really like animals at all. If you do like animals though or have wanted to get a pet, but can’t really accommodate having a pet at the moment, I encourage you to do one thing. I challenge you to find a shelter or animal rescue facility where you can volunteer or go hang out and spend time with whatever animal(s) you like. You never know, you could find peace in experiences when you least expect it.
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