Photo via EmmyMik.

Nonprofits

What I Learned Volunteering at the SPCA

There's more to it than scratching ears and rubbing bellies.

I’d been wanting to volunteer at a local place for quite some time. But until last week, I never pulled the trigger for one reason or another. As I was driving down I-30, I saw the colorful SPCA of Texas building on my right, and it hit me. Although I don’t own a pet, I love animals, so it seemed like a no-brainer. The next day I filled out the online application, and I waited.

A few days later, I was contacted to set up my first volunteer shift. So yesterday afternoon, I got in my car and drove from my Lakewood apartment out west to the SPCA’s Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center. I changed into my purple volunteer shirt and was ready to get to work.

As I took a tour around the facility, I and the other new volunteer passed by the dogs in their little rooms, waiting to be adopted and looking at us with those break-your-heart puppy-dog eyes. But we didn’t stop to pet them. Instead, we headed to the back—past people doing laundry, washing windows, organizing supplies—where the not-so-glamorous-but-necessary work happens. We learned that for our first few volunteer shifts, we wouldn’t be handling the dogs or cats at all. That would come later, with proper training. No, yesterday we spent an hour and a half scraping off dried dog food and cat litter, cemented to metal pans, and then scrubbing, washing, and drying them. But it was cathartic in a way, notwithstanding some minor hand cramping. Motivation, I thought to myself, to eventually reach the fun part of volunteering with animals.

When the dishes and pans were clean, we were allowed to join in on giving some of the dogs treats after they went out to play, even with our newbie status. They were all ridiculously sweet, and a tripod German Shepherd mix named Maximilian may have stolen my heart.

On my way home from my inaugural shift, I thought about how so much more went into maintaining a nonprofit like the SPCA than I’d known. All the menial tasks and tiny details are part of the big picture: caring for animals and ultimately finding them permanent homes. And with the influx of evacuee pets and strays from Hurricane Harvey, it couldn’t be a more appropriate time to put on a purple shirt. Who knows, you may end up with a stolen heart and a new best friend.

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