My First Day at the Animal Shelter

Day/Time: Friday, January 18th, 1 pm.

Place: Animal Protection Society of Rockingham County (APSRC), Reidsville, NC

Purpose: Day one as shelter volunteer

The first thing I notice upon entering is a cat's black and white head poking out of a small circle in the ceiling of the office area. The next thing I notice is that, other than myself, no one seems particular surprised to see a cat's head poking out of the ceiling.

The cat was making loud meows at the office director who waved a shrimp in the cat's general direction. "Come and get it then," she said to the cat.

Finally a volunteer stood on a desk and pulled the cat out of the hole (which I think was some sort of venting or insulation tunnel?). The cat, a thin black and white beauty, gobbled the shrimp. "She's been roaming around up there for a month," the volunteer said cheerfully. She kissed the cat. "You finally decided to come down, huh?"

The cat was extremely thin. The volunteer pointed to a similar aged cat, plump and healthy looking, and noted cat #1 (or "ceiling kitty" as I had come to think of her) used to be her weight. "No more disappearing," she scolded before putting ceiling kitty in a cage and closing the door firmly behind her.

Then we got to work. I worked with a young woman on cleaning the cat cages. I was relieved to see the cages were large and well tended. We transferred the cats to a holding carrier while we dumped old newspaper, food, and litter, sprayed the cage with 409, then put down fresh paper, litter, food and water. There were 3 kittens in one cage together (adorable), and a couple of cages that had two cats per cage. I'd say maybe 12 cats total. Out of those, all but 3 of them were friendly and let you hold and move them without a fuss. For the wilder cats, we left them in the cage and just cleaned around them.

I was relieved at the work. I'd been afraid of walking in the front door and bursting into tears, an emotional wreck. But it was okay. The work kept me busy, the cats were friendly, as was the woman I worked with, and it felt good to be doing something, no matter how small that something was, for the animals.

Once we finished the cats, it was time for the dogs. A volunteer was already in there, spraying down cages. I went in to help with food and water.

Dogs were harder. They were in a dark room that had a warm heat lamp overhead. The room is dark because tarps have been put up recently to make walls and keep the animals warm. But it does limit the light allowed in. There were numerous dogs in each kennel--big, small, all colors, puppies everywhere. Tails were wagging, wagging. Everyone rushed the fence, trying to get a nose in for a pet or to give your fingers a quick lick.  I just wanted to sit down and hold them all.

I was astounded--astounded--at the beauty and quality of the dogs held there. If I were in the market, I saw at least 10 dogs that I'd immediately consider taking home. Friendly, beautiful, nothing like what I think a "shelter dog" might look like.

The noise level though! Whoo! And the smell. The cages are clean, it's not that. You just can't have that many animals in a confined space and not have there be smell. Four teenagers came in while we were cleaning to look at the dogs and left within 5 minutes, holding their shirts over their noses. I don't think it was THAT bad. I'm pretty sensitive to smells so if I can stand it... It just smells like animals, is all.

So I'm dishing out food and I'm thinking, "This is good. I can do this. I can come back." Then the animal control officer showed up.

He was dragging an obviously terrified pup behind him. I'm guessing some sort of Rotweiller mix? I'm not sure, but it was dark brown and black and looked maybe 5 months old? The officer said, "I got two more," and left to retrieve them. The little dog huddled in his kennel, then when his brothers/sisters joined him, they huddled together. I'm sure they had no idea where they were or what the heck was going on.

That was the point where my eyes filled with tears. I blinked them back thinking, "Don't look, don't look." I swung food into bowls as fast as I could.

I walked into the other room and the officer had a neck noose  around this orange cat and hauled this cat's ass (there is no other way to describe it) across the linoleum floor and into a cage. I'm not saying he did anything wrong. Coaxing the cat wouldn't have been an option. It was just a shock to me, seeing this cat swung across the floor and into a cage. THAT was hard as well.

Thankfully, right at that moment a couple showed up who were interested in a tortoiseshell kitten they'd seen on  They held and cuddled this cat and she ate it up. They are going to adopt her. That was a joyful moment.

A few more people came and went to look at dogs and cats, but no one seemed interested. Then an attractive woman with two adorable young children showed up and asked to see Leo. Things went very well, especially when more as a joke than anything the shelter volunteer said, "Leo, sit!" and Leo sat! He did well around the cats and they took him for a walk outside and when I left, the woman was taking pictures of Leo with her cell phone. I think Leo may have a new home by Monday.

I also spent some time loving up on the cats. Took a few out of their cages and held them and got a nice purr out of a couple. There is one BEAUTIFUL cat there that is tugging at my heart. She's an orange cat and is a surrender, meaning someone gave her up. You can tell she used to be a housecat because she just looks bewildered by her current surroundings. She stands at the front of the cage and looks at you like, "I'm so sorry to bother you, but there appears to have been a mix-up. I don't belong here." She is a lover cat, too. Loves to be petted.

So overall, I would say it was a balanced day. There were some hard moments, but there were some good moments as well. And I'm floored by the work the ONE paid shelter coordinator has on her plate. The cage cleaning has to be done daily for both dogs and cats. With three volunteers there working today, it took us almost 2 hours. And time she spends cleaning the cages is time spent away from putting photos of the animals on petfinder, returning phone calls, and giving shelter tours.

One thing I need to watch is my allergies. I'm more allergic to dogs than cats these days. On the drive home after two hours at the shelter, my throat was constricted and I had a headache. But I'm going back next Friday. I faced it, and it really was nowhere near as bad as I feared it might be. I'll report in next week on how Day 2 goes.