Over the past few months, I have reached out a few times to the Orange County SPCA about volunteering without a single reply. Today, I happened to drive past the Seal Beach Animal Care Center and noticed a sign stating that the shelter is extremely overcrowded and would not be accepting any additional animal surrenders. This tugged at my heart and I immediately made a U-turn and pulled into their parking lot.
I walked in without knowing whether I was there to adopt a dog (Surprise Husby!) or to offer my help. The facility was small and the five-by-ten foot lobby was littered with papers and pictures all over the walls. A giant, flat metal tree with plaques for leaves adorned the back wall. Without reading them, my guess was they were honoring donors.
“Can I help you?” said an older woman in a pink t-shirt and grey hair pulled back into a pony tail.
“How can I volunteer?” I asked. Ok, good, I did know why I was here. Husby will be quite relieved.
“Dogs or cats?” she asked.
“Dogs,” I said.
“Oh wonderful,” she replied. “Here, fill out this dog walking form here. Here’s a pen. Have a seat.”
She handed me a clipboard and pen to fill out their volunteer application. Surprisingly, I never really thought about what volunteering would actually require of me. Dog walking? I could definitely do that. I do that already three times a day. Why didn’t I do this sooner?
The first page was mostly weeding out whether you have any experience walking dogs previously, and if you don’t mind sustaining injuries from aggressive and/or scared dogs. After all, dogs have lizard brains just like humans do and when they feel insecure, they may react defensively. I am willing to take that risk.
The second page was more around how comfortable you are with dealing with dog feces and urine. Let’s face it, as a life-long dog owner, my skin and clothing has come in contact with dog poop inadvertently. It’s just a reality. In the instance of shelters, and given the confines of the cages, there’s a higher probability that they may have it on them and you need to clean it off before walking them. While this certainly doesn’t make my heart sing, it’s not a deal breaker.
I handed the form back to the woman in the pink t-shirt and she handed it over to another woman in a dark green t-shirt. As soon as my butt hit the chair again, I heard “Jennifer?”
“Yes?” I asked hopping back up and walking into the office area.
“How comfortable are you with big dogs pulling you?” she asked.
“I once had a 120 pound Chinook sled dog who was born to pull me,” I said. “I managed.”
“Are you scared of any breeds in particular?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
“How about bully breeds?” she prodded. “Do they make you uncomfortable?”
“No,” I replied. “We’ve wanted to foster or adopt one for a while now, but haven’t yet.”
“She’s approved!” she told the woman in pink.
And that was that. I was given some options for upcoming orientation and chose this coming Saturday to attend.
The woman in pink reiterated to wear old clothes that I didn’t mind getting dirty and closed-toe shoes to protect my feet. Another younger woman, who looked to be in her early 20s, offered to give me a tour of the facility. She took me through the laundry area, which is another option for volunteers who want to donate their time to clean and fold, and then out into the paddocks. She showed me where they sleep at night that has indoor and outdoor areas. She showed me the larger dog areas and the smaller dog areas. Some dogs were paired up and informed me it was ok to walk dogs together that are paired, but not to mix combining dogs not already paired. Then she pointed out the large play space areas where they each get time to run around, play and exercise.
After introducing me to all the dogs by name at the facility, she took me back into the office building where she pointed out the dog walking scheduling board. Each dog’s name was written. Those in blue marker were the ‘pullers.’ Each dog gets walked three times a day, with volunteers rotating through dogs until all are walked in each time slot. I was impressed that they got so much exercise between the walks and the outdoor play.
I’m excited for orientation on Saturday to start interacting with the pups. It’s a great way to get some exercise in while also loving on some dogs who are waiting on their “furever” homes.