Paying It Forward.......

Paying It Forward…………..

I guess you could say that my actual career in understanding dogs and their behaviors began when I was only five years old and not actually by choice.  My mother was an animal shelter volunteer at our local shelter and every day, religiously, after breakfast, we walked out our front door, past the neighbor’s house and into the animal shelter to volunteer our time.  The shelter was located just two doors away from our home.  Two very determined women transformed the city’s pound and animal gas chamber into a loving, caring, animal shelter back in the early 60’s.

Times were different then and perhaps dogs were too.  My little jobs consisted of taking care of the cats, feeding them, watering them and playing with them in a large open cattery.  After the cats were taken care of, small and exotic animals were next.  I learned very quickly that rabbits can kick and make your belly bleed, that red foxes have very sharp looking teeth and that it’s important to make sure that the screen door doesn’t close on your white rat’s tail, sitting on your shoulder, when exiting the building,

After all the indoor animals were cared for, the best part of my day would begin.  I always anxiously awaited my time with the dogs.  All morning long I could hear them calling to me.  I couldn’t wait to get into the pens with them.  The 3 large community pens consisted of a variety of both purebred and mixed breed dogs, big and small.  At any given time there were at least 20-30 dogs per pen.  My chores there consisted of feeding the dogs in the three community pens and walking them up and down the street for exercise.  Imagine if you ever witnessed that today, a five year old child feeding a pack of homeless dogs!  

To this day, when I tell the old stories about my early days at the shelter, people always ask me whether or not I was scared of being bit or if I had ever been bitten by any of the dogs.  Fortunately I was never bitten by any of the dogs.  As a child, I can remember how the dogs spoke to me with their body language, facial expressions and vocalizations.  Each dog’s body language, facial expression and vocalization told me a story of their past and hopes for their futures.  I would sit and contemplate about their future homes.  Who would come and give Buffy a new home?  Would they be kind people?  Would Buffy have a little girl to play with and love her like I did?   Would they know what her favorite foods were, what games she liked to play, where her favorite walking spots were? 

Some of the dogs were very scared and their eyes told their sad stories, they needed space and I had to earn their trust which sometimes took weeks.  Then there were those with lost souls, they were weary, they howled in the night as I lay in bed listening to their vocalizations.  Those were the saddest of all.  Sometimes a different vocalization would awaken me in the night, this particular vocalization told me that there was someone or something around the shelter’s building.

Being an only child, the dogs were my every day friends.  I found it easy to communicate with them since I myself was a very shy child and found it difficult to communicate with other humans.  My lack of human communication worried my father but my mother didn’t worry, she seemed to understand that I had some kind of animal intuition that nurtured and eased animals.  

After feeding the dogs, I would finally get my reward for the day and that would be to take litters of pups out of the shelter, put them in my doll carriage and ride them up the street to my house where I  would let them play in our fenced in backyard for a couple of hours.  I would dress them up in baby doll  clothes and have tea parties, picnics and sometimes doggie birthday parties; everyone would be seated, wearing party hats and getting prepared for doggie treats served on my best china.  I would recite my nursery rhymes to them while each one had a ride on the swing set with me.  Unbeknownst to me at that time, my mother was allowing me to provide the pups with the socialization that they needed before they were to be adopted out into permanent homes. 

Fifty years later and not much in my life has changed, my philosophy regarding humane training and the human/animal bond is still the same and I continue to share my life with my own eight pack of shelter dogs.  Shelter dogs have been my life’s work and because of them, I have had the opportunity to pay it forward over and over again by helping dog owner’s to understand their dogs better.  We pay it forward for the sake of the animal.

Dogs, in my opinion, are simple creatures, existing for simple life sustaining resources and human companionship.  Food, water and shelter sustain life but human companionship is the glue that bonds.   Above all other resources, a dog’s strongest desire is to be with us, sharing our life.