Now more than ever, you are needed to donate your old blankets, towels, and sheets to your local animal shelter. With financial cut-backs, repairs on shelters are often put off, so if it's drafty, the animals suffer. I know my shelter uses rags to stuff under doors. No kidding! Empty out those closets... this is your chance to get rid of stuff and do something useful!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Volunteering at Yonkers Animal Shelter

I want to share how I became a volunteer at an animal shelter because if you are like me - a sap for animals - this may have some resonance with you.

I have collected and delivered linens and certain items (listed in previous post) to Yonkers Animal Shelter (YAS) for a few years. About twice a year I send an email to everyone I know making my pitch. They assemble their old sheets and towels and we arrange for them to get to me. I pester my Mom for hers, which she hates to part with, and eventually I make the trip to the shelter, all while trying to not have any dogs imprint on my mind to where I would then think about them for the next week.

One day I was making my drop and I noticed a lot of what seemed to be "laypeople," for lack of a better phrase. I spoke to one woman, saying how I try to come periodically to drop stuff off but don't want to look too closely at any of the dogs (some pens are right out front.) She said "we have a lot of volunteers, why don't you come in to walk some dogs?" I thought to myself, that is exactly what I don't want to do! I had long thought of this and knew it was one of those things I was not built for doing. If I went and actually saw all those dogs with no one to love them nor anyone to offer little comforts, and then have to leave them in that spot, I'd be wrecked. My dog sleeps in my bed, literally has four *other* beds throughout the house, and eats twice a day - food I prepare myself. I already have one rescue dog from Elmsford Animal Shelter (a chihuahua and daschund mix who was left there twice and is mostly deaf) and my Mom has one from Hartford Animal Shelter (a high maintenance yorkie with a strong sense of justice named George). We help each other with dog care, as needed, and have agreed that between us it's best if we both only have one dog. Plus, in between 2000 and 2006 I had to put down three dogs, all adopted from shelters. None were puppies when I got them and one only lived ten months and had to have all his teeth removed due to rot. I explained to this volunteer how I felt. She said "we haven't had to put a dog down all summer; adoptions are good at the moment; there are a lot of people who come here to walk dogs, why don't you give it a try."

I did not commit but we did exchange numbers. I told her what I do for a living (I fundraise for an area college and have been a fundraiser for non-profits for 19 years). Of course, for the next three or four days it was on my mind. Then I thought about it some more, and decided - against all logic - that I have a responsibility to do it.

So I called Leslie - Volunteer Extraordinaire - Angel to Many Dogs - and said I think I will come in. After filling out the application and getting approved, I showed up. My first day was a weekday when there are fewer volunteers. On weekends, I've learned, there can be as many as 8 or 10 volunteers. Weekdays, the dogs are lucky if 4 people show up to walk them. Diane - another Volunteer Extraordinaire, who takes it upon herself to walk the more challenging dogs, patiently took me around, showed me how to loop the leash around the dogs' necks and all the ins and outs of getting them in and out of their cages. I had no experience with pit bulls and that's 92 percent of what YAS has. There are the purebred small dogs that last two minutes before a rescue comes to get them. A poodle would last three or four days before a rescue picked her up. A pit bull; not so.

Anyway, the first dog I walked was Sophie - now named Miss Sophie due to her and I bonding so well. What a great first pit bull to walk! She is a shapely brindle girl, with a seal-like head, and almond shaped eyes. She waggles her whole body at you when you look her way, and she is very gentle. My first time walking one of these infamous dogs could not have been better. I got a lot of confidence from that first walk. I check on Miss Sophie each time I go to the shelter.

Leslie is getting pictures of all the dogs, and when she does I'll post some here. Right now you can find them on

I walked four others that first day; Pudgie (who loves his toys), Cookie (who made me a little nervous), Willie (now "Mr. Willie," and who is a big mush), Debbie (mild-mannered, middle aged white female with a mole on her cheek), and Dixie (who knows she is due a treat when you're done walking her).

I have to say the experience is a lot better than I thought it would be. First of all, I'm impressed by how many volunteers there are, and how well they know the dogs. Many bring in treats and additional food out of their own pockets. The dogs get fed a decent amount (I've been there just after feeding time) but some dogs come in very thin. I'm still fattening up Hannah, Mr. Willie, and Debbie with an extra can of soft food whenever I go.

I am still getting to know the dogs (there are cats, too; I've brought them toys a few times, more on them another time), and the volunteers, and the rules (no rawhide as pits can get possessive of their raw hide. When the staff needs to change an animal from the dog run to the cages inside, no staff wants to or should have to deal with that).

The staff, for their part, seems to have good relationships with the volunteers, though some of us must try their patience. Animal lovers are an intense group and sometimes we lose perspective. The staff has been very skilled at dealing with the dogs, they are not falsely hopeful about them (YAS is a low-kill shelter, and every effort is made to work with a dog), and they do their best to give us helpful pointers. Nick, a staff member, asked me very nicely the other day to not feed canned beef to the dogs as it gives them diarrhea. They could have told me to not feed them anything; they have it covered, but I think they really try to work with us, and the dogs, to the best of their ability, given that the place is hard-up (more on that another time).

So far so good. I am showing up about twice or three times weekly, staying between 1 hour to 2 1/2hours (on days when I am off from work). I think about the dogs in between visits, and miss them.