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Walking my first shelter dog

At age 10 I fell in love with my first shelter dog. I also experienced that feeling of helplessness, of wanting to do more.

As a fifth-grader, my classmates and I were rewarded individually for good (or bad) behavior through a point system. I can’t remember exactly how it worked, but at the end of each quarter, those of us with enough points got to select a fieldtrip from a list.

The kids with the most points could choose more extravagant trips like visiting the amusement park Valley Fair or attending a Minnesota Twins game. The fewer points you had, the less exciting the trips were, but at least you got to bust out of school for a day. It was possible to have negative points, and those kids had to stay behind.

This point system was abolished within a year or so. Not enough “equality” as I am from the generation of “Everyone Wins.”

I was a shy kid, so I never got a ton of points. I was the silent, obedient type, but since I didn’t raise my hand or lead discussions I had your “average” number of points. That didn’t matter to me, because the trip I chose was on the less extravagant side. It was a trip only me and a few other kids picked. We got to take a bus out of Orono to walk shelter dogs for the humane society.


Abbey was the first shelter dog I walked. There would be many more (heck, if only I knew!). Abbey was this grayish, beagle, husky-looking thing. About 40 pounds. She was smaller than the golden retriever my family had at home.

Abbey and I strolled down a dirt road somewhere on the edge of the Twin Cities suburbs. I guess schools and parents and shelters had more trust in kids back then. There was no orientation. Nothing about how to hold a leash. No instructions on how or how not to touch a dog. They just let me take Abbey, so out we went. The other kids did the same with the various dogs they picked.

One boy, Tony, was bitten by a German shepherd that day. The rumor was that the dog would be killed because of it. Even at ago 10, I remember knowing – without fully understanding – that it just wasn’t right to kill that dog. I wrote in my journal that night, “The bite didn’t even break his skin.”

As for Abbey, I don’t know what happened to her. I had no comprehension of a no-kill shelter at that time. People didn’t talk of such things in 1993, at least not in Minnesota. As I walked Abbey, I knew that shelters killed healthy pets on a routine basis, same as now.

I later begged my parents to adopt Abbey. They declined (I’m sure they had good reasons). I cried. And that was the end of it.

It may or may not have been the end for Abbey. I’ll never know. She remains in my mind as this floating, middle-aged dog, forever waiting.

Waiting for a now 29-year-old kid to come bust her out for a muddy walk on a graveled road.

Ace the black lab mix walking on a dirt road in North Dakota.

Nancy's Point

Tuesday 9th of April 2013

So that's when you got the hamster! Nice nostalgic post.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of April 2013

That hamster was awesome!


Tuesday 9th of April 2013

Very heartwarming story. ❤ I never even heard of an animal shelter until I was an adult. But growing up, my mom was the unofficial dog rescue lady in town. When people talked about needing to find a new home for their dog, word got around and eventually they would hear about my mom. I remember having ten dogs at one time. Word also got around for people wanting to get a dog. If they didn't want a puppy and wanted a dog that was at least partially trained, my mom's was the place to go. We didn't know about non-profit statuses or anything so we did not get tax deductions. And our donations were actually gifts and were from our friends. Thanks for sharing your happy childhood memories with dogs and helping me recall mine. :0)

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of April 2013

What a great story! I never knew that about you. I wonder how many people are out there across the world doing exactly what your mom was doing while you were growing up. Just good people doing good things for dogs on their own without expecting anything in return. This explains why you love dogs so much!


Tuesday 9th of April 2013

One summer my husband and I volunteered at a local shelter on Saturdays, as we were not in a position to have our own dog at the time. We would walk a few dogs while shelter staff would clean their cages. I will never never forget the second weekend, when we walked Harley, a young bi-eyed Husky (or so we thought). We had noticed that he liked to walk close to the hedges or walls on the route, but we were inexperienced and didn’t clue in right away. My husband decided to run a little bit with Harley, who was hesitant, but did trot a bit – until he ran into a post! We finally realized that there was something wrong with his vision. When we returned to the shelter we asked if there was something wrong with his eyes, and the staff member says “Oh, didn’t anyone tell you? He is blind”. He was only about two years old, but one eye was blue due to a cataract, and he had also lost vision in his brown eye. We felt so bad for making him run.

Harley did have a happy ending as he was adopted just a few weeks later.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of April 2013

Oh very interesting. Sounds like a very fun and rewarding experience to walk dogs together on the weekend like that. I'm glad Harley had a happy ending :)


Tuesday 9th of April 2013

Beautiful piece, Lindsay.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of April 2013

Thank you!


Monday 8th of April 2013

My elementary school experience mirrored yours... My school would take trips to the Burnsville animal shelter (Minneapolis represent!). I often felt like I couldn't do enough - that even if I was able to adopt every pet in the shelter it would be full again just days later. I fell in love with a black and white dog named Spud, and created enough of a fuss for DAYS that my mother finally consented to adopt him. She took him back about a month later, I believe (though she says he went away with some other kids, mysteriously, when I was gone on a weekend trip with my dad - the dog had eaten a sofa while I was at school and was a master escape artist, so I'm pretty sure she wasn't entirely keen on keeping him, though I loved him to pieces). I cried for months.

Now, of course, that feeling of helplessness has translated into volunteering with animal welfare organizations in any way I can and getting as many forms of identification on my dogs as possible (microchips, blanketIDs, regular tags)...

Never did like the trips to Valley Fair, though. The lines for rollercoasters were always ridiculous.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 8th of April 2013

Thanks for sharing your experiences as a kid. My mom wouldn't let me get any of the dogs, but she let me get a hamster that spring :) I hope things turned out OK for your Spud.

The Wild Thing just wasn't all it was cracked up to be :)