Give Me Shelter

This week I started volunteering at the local chapter of North Shore Animal League here in Glens Falls. I’ve volunteered in the past at other places, but not for a long time. Working now as a socializer, I will help the resident cats and kittens, some of whom have been feral, adjust to life with people in preparation for finding their forever homes.

What it essentially boils down to is playing with and petting them, which is always the most fun. But also just getting them used to a person being around, being present, which many have only feared.

There are many cat rooms at the shelter, where they typically live in small groups, with separate veterinary/quarantine, office, and intake areas. The house is super clean and all are well-cared for. Plus everyone is very nice, helpful, and professional, and definitely committed to their work. Like other places I’ve volunteered, HOPE in Saratoga and Whiskers in Albany, it’s nice to see how much positive, organized effort can do to help a cause.

Some of the cats will take a lot of time working with or to find homes. There are adults at the shelter who have been there months, one years – a beautiful, white, special needs cat named Blue, who is deaf and has nerve damage, requiring people to help him go to the bathroom twice a day – but also kittens still wary of human contact.

Just like people (myself included), for some there are varying levels of issues to work through, requiring more time and patience. I actually look forward to helping these cats more, because I know the very outwardly social ones will easily find homes.

And I’ve always had a softer spot for the fearful, shy, and hurt ones, maybe because I see myself so often in them sometimes. I know how helpful it can be just to have someone sit with you and be a loving presence, though it can take awhile to learn to be comfortable with that. A little time and therapy can go a long way.

Yesterday I spent most of the time in a small room with four kittens, two of whom were very outgoing, affectionate and playful right away. The other two, both black and white, one with one blue eye and one green, were super afraid even to be touched. I had spent time already in a few rooms with more shy cats, and decided to try to see if I could bring these guys out of their shells a bit.

I grabbed one of the soft wand toys, it has a long bit of fuzzy fabric at the end of a plastic tube, and brought it in with me. First I just sat awhile and talked to them, letting them get used to me. I started tempting the two outgoing kittens with the toy, and they quickly got into playing. The other two only watched for a bit. Then slowly, very slowly, first one began to play, then the other.

Kendall and Jackson, the two shy kittens I worked with

By the end of forty minutes or so, all were up and playing with the wand and other toys, a ball of yarn and a tower with spinning balls stuck inside. The shy two started eating and drinking in front of me, which is quite a step, and rolling onto their bellies. I still couldn’t touch or pet them except with the end of the wand toy, but it felt really good to see how different they were from when I first entered the room.

Socializing is what I can offer instead of cleaning or similar tasks. I have my own special needs cat, Clark, with his liver shunt, so I have to be very careful about bringing illness or diseases home to him and my two other cats.

But it feels good to help in whatever way I can. And it helps me, too, because so often Clark’s condition consumes my thoughts. I worry over him and his illness, what could happen, what has happened, what I will do- it’s something I know I’m not alone in feeling. But really, I’m alone in dealing with it everyday, though I love him and am so glad to have him in my life. I often tell people it’s been one of the best but hardest things to ever happen in my life. Still, he is happy and loved,and though we have some rough spots in his health, I know I do my best every day for him.

Seeing the other cats that need help, special needs or otherwise, reminds me of what I have to give to them, that I can share it with other animals. And I also sense it will help give me some perspective on Clark and my care for for him. I think anyone who has taken care of a chronically I’ll loved one, furry or not, understands the stress, the joys and fears going hand-in-hand together some days, sometimes within minutes of each other.

I will go back next week, juts couple hours on Wednesday afternoons, to work with the cats at the shelter. I think it will be nice to get to know the other volunteers and staff, too, to be a part of a cause and worthwhile work that I believe in. I would love to save every animal everywhere, but I know that’s just not possible. So I’m making an effort here in my community, with the animals that I share this small part of the world with, and hope it will make a difference.