When I first volunteered to walk rescue dogs I met the rescue’s founder on a Sunday morning. Together we took one of the pit mixes on a 15-minute stroll, then she handed me the leash and that was that. It was September 2007.
It was very meaningful work for me. I could show up whenever I wanted. There was no schedule. No liability forms. The rescue had no insurance. No volunteer applications. I felt important and needed, and I made a huge difference for those dogs.
I still worked at a newspaper at the time. During those walks, thoughts of starting a dog running business were brewing. I eventually took the rescue dogs running since it just made sense. They needed to run. After my first 500 miles running with rescue dogs, I stopped keeping track. The miles no longer meant anything. My time with them did.
Six years later, in a different, more-populated area of the country, the shelters are very bureaucratic. This is becoming the case everywhere, not just here. It’s a good thing, in many ways. You can’t have just anyone walking a dog now, can you? (Or can you?)
I’ve waited two months for an upcoming volunteer training. I’m probably way too excited for it. First I must complete a one-hour general training session followed by a two-hour training session specific to handling dogs. Then, I’m told, I will be closely supervised for several volunteer shifts. After that, I might get to run with the dogs if I’d like. It seems to be more about me than it is about helping dogs in need. If I complete the training I might “get to” run with the dogs.
I’m not writing this to criticize any of these groups. Volunteer training and organization are good things, obviously. But so are simplicity and trust.
I guess when you’re flooded with volunteers who think they want to help animals, you can afford to weed through them and make it difficult to get involved. You can figure out who’s actually committed. If that’s the goal, I get it. The shelter is the prize, not the volunteer.
So, I’ve hopped in line.
I can’t wait to bust a dog from her cage. It will be for me as much as it will be for her.
Her muscles working. Her paws in the sand.