Saturday, June 18, 2011

Return of the Dog Walker

It had been over a month since I had last walked some dogs at the animal shelter.  That's how crazy my schedule has been.  However, I did get out there twice this week.  I always enjoy getting to know a whole slew of new dogs.  Each breed is so unique.  I got to work with one of those Australian Cattle Dogs that lays flat on its belly and waits for a signal to round up the cattle.  I didn't have any cows around, so I just threw tennis balls for it to chase.  I tried different whistle sounds to see if the dog would respond.  At first he just looked confused, like I wasn't differentiating my whistle sounds well enough, but then came running up to me when one of the whistles made sense to him.

I met a shepherd mix that obviously has been physically abused.  Each time I reached down to pet him, he cringed and put his tail between his legs.  Sometimes he'd sit or lay down and show me his belly in a submissive pose.  I spent a lot of time praising him and teaching him that some humans have kind hands.  I was doing really well gaining his trust until I stepped on a rock on the edge of ditch, rolled my ankle, grunted in pain and fell down almost on top of him.

The poor dog thought I was attacking him and he took off running, hit the end of the leash, and rolled over on his back whimpering.  I was laying there saying, "Good boy!  You're okay.  You didn't do anything.  I just fell down." 

He wasn't convinced.  He thought he did something bad and was now going to be beat.  I got up and limped my way back to the animal shelter.  I opened the door and a Pit Bull started barking and throwing himself at the gate to try to attack us.  I yelled "Quit" at him, and turned around to find my fearful shepherd laying down again halfway in and halfway out the door.  I couldn't close the door without hitting the dog, nor could I get him to stand up.  He heard me yell at the Pit Bull and immediately thought he did something wrong.  I had to pick him up to move him out of the doorway while holding the door open with my foot.

I got him to his kennel and then gave him more praise and a treat.  Believe it or not, this is the first time I've worked with a dog in the shelter who had obviously come from an abusive background.  Most of the dogs just seem untrained, probably coming from owners who didn't have the time to invest in their training.  Then the dogs become unmanageable and the owners give them up. 

My foot swelled up a little, but it didn't hurt too bad.  It fell asleep on me this morning, but I can otherwise walk on it just fine.  I'm going to have to be more careful watching where I step when I walk and jog those dogs.  Now that the sun is shining, not many volunteers are coming around to walk the dogs.  I guess they are all out having fun in the sun, so I'm spending more time than usual at the shelter to try to make up for it.  I used to spend half an hour with each dog and would stay for one and a half hours, which only let me work with three dogs, but now I'm cutting my time down to 15 minutes per dog so that I can exercise more of them. 

I do have to keep a thick skin while working there, because the staff and other volunteers all have their own opinions on how every situation should be handled, and they are much quicker to find fault with my actions than to praise or thank me.  Many of them contradict each other in their advice, and the rules change daily, depending on who you talk to.  I've decided to go rogue and do what makes sense to me. 

For instance, I was trained not to let the shelter cat in the door if there is a dog in the lobby.  That makes sense to me.  One day I needed to walk out the door when some people were in the process of adopting a Pit Bull.  I could see that that Pit Bull was fixated on the cat, which it could see through the glass on the door.  The cat wanted in and I wanted out, and I knew I couldn't get out without the cat sneaking past me to get in.  A staff member saw my predicament and dealt with the cat long enough for me to get out the door.

Then the next time I needed to enter the building and the cat was sitting by the door waiting to get in.  I looked through the glass and saw their was a dog in the lobby.  I tried picking up the cat so that it wouldn't sneak in while I walked in.  A staff member opened the door and yelled at me saying, "It's okay.  The cat can come in.  He lives here."

I know that cat lives there, but I didn't think it would be wise to let him in while a dog is in the lobby.  I let go of the cat, and it ran in, and fortunately the dog only lunged at it, but didn't rip the leash out of his new owner's hands. 

Another thing I like to do is knock before opening a closed door.  Sometimes people are in the room, sometimes just animals are in there, and sometimes no one is in there.  I don't really care.  I just think it is polite to knock before entering.  Yet when I do that, someone always has to yell out, "No one is in there."

So, one day I started to just walk right into a room, out of fear that someone would yell at me for knocking on the door of an empty room, and instead someone yelled at me not to go in because someone was in there. 

We were also trained to turn in our car keys at the desk in exchange for a master key to the kennels when we arrive, and if no one is at the desk, we are to make the exchange ourselves.  So, one day I walked around to the back of the desk and opened the drawer to exchange keys, and someone came out of an office and questioned me on what I was doing.  I explained that I was a volunteer, but the person still made me feel uncomfortable for being there.  So, the next time I arrived and no one was at the desk, I waited for someone to show up to exchange the keys for me.  A staff member came out of the lunch room, asked me what I wanted, and then told me to just do it myself!  

It does seem that no matter what I do, there's always someone around to correct me, and as soon as I adjust my behavior to that correction, someone else is correcting me to do the opposite.  So, I just take everything everyone says with a grain of salt.  What are they going to do?  Fire me?  I kind of wish I could wear one of those Animal Control Officer uniforms, because then I'm sure I could do what is needed without comment.  It's only because I am a volunteer that people feel that have to constantly train me.  I wouldn't mind being constantly trained if everyone could come to a consensus on the proper procedure in each situation.


Mary said...

It sounds like those folks need a refresher course on what "volunteer" means. They should happy you're there. That's rediculous! You should put this article in the op-ed page of your paper anonymously. Maybe that would wake them up. I don't know. I suppose there could be repercussions on that too. Just know you are doing the right thing. There should be more people like you. Sorry for the rant

Far Side of Fifty said...

I would complain to the Shelter Director. They should have policies in place that apply to everyone. They should be bending over backwards to keep their volunteers happy:)

achieve1dream said...

Agreed. That is not the way to treat volunteers!! Maybe they will replace the staff with friendlier people and train them better lol. Keep up the great work and be careful with your ankle. I'm glad the twist wasn't worse.