By Jessica Hutchinson, VI Form
The Double Entendre of “Shelter Crazy”
Becoming shelter crazy is not a myth. I have seen it happen too many times. Lily remained crouched in the back of her kennel, growling at anyone who came near her. After spending over a year at the shelter, Blitz would lunge at anyone he did not know, and after losing one leg, his other failed him. Goji stayed at the shelter for months before he was adopted but was soon returned. All three dogs were put down because they could not handle the stressful shelter environment. We invested our time and hearts in them, hoping the right person would come along and give them a good home. Unfortunately, all three were euthanized.
While I will remember the sad stories of Lily, Blitz, and Goji, I will also remember my joyous times at the shelter. A man came into the shelter with his two young boys looking for a playful
adult cat; they wanted to simultaneously rescue an animal and welcome a new family member into their home. I greeted them and showed them various cats, starting with playful cats, Cloe and Chickadee. They then realized they wanted a cuddly, calm cat. They adored the next two that I showed them, but after letting them meet a young female calico named Callie, we all knew she was a perfect fit for them. This was the first time I was instrumental in helping a family find their perfect companion, and it was validating to see the love conveyed between the eyes of the children and their new friend.
In order to work at an animal shelter, one has to be both physically and mentally strong. Bags of laundry can weigh more than one hundred and twenty pounds, but the physical difficulties are not the hard part. Handling my emotions is my greatest challenge. In the same day a bunny who has been at the shelter for months could be adopted, a dog that has been there for over a year could be euthanized, a kitten could be returned, and my favorite cat could come down with Upper Respiratory Infection, which is fatal if not treated promptly. I have found nothing as rewarding as washing over twenty carpenter’s bags of laundry or working with a family to find the perfect cat; nothing is as heartbreaking as seeing an animal euthanized because he was returned and could not handle the shelter environment for a second time, like Goji.
Working at the shelter for over 335 hours has been both humbling and strengthening. The people with whom I work to care and find homes for animals are kind and resilient, and I admire them. We work so hard cleaning in the mornings, knowing when we come back an hour later the animal would have made another mess. Oddly enough, cleaning kennels, doing laundry, and helping out with other tasks are therapeutic for me.
Before I began working at the shelter, I thought pets were simply for enjoyment. Now, however, I see by cleaning litterboxes and scratching a cat behind the ear, I could be changing her life. Training a dog to sit could just be enough to help him find a home. Every second I spend at the shelter helps an animal become adoptable and seeing each one go home fills me with a happiness that is unexplainable.
However, it is not just what I can do for animals; it is what they do for me. They have a genuine innocence which comes from instinct. Animals do not live in the confines of social constructs, which makes them nonjudgmental and true to their identity. I strive to do the same, although I find it incredibly difficult. Working with animals, however, has taught me how to be myself even under stressful conditions. I find satisfaction in caring for the animals, and I find serenity in each one’s nonjudgmental gaze.
Jessica Hutchinson is a VI Form day student who lives in Dunstable, MA. Working with animals, doing film photography, and writing are some of her favorite activities.