Lessons Learned from Walking Dogs and Cat Cuddling

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Life Isn't Fair

Dogs and cats are abandoned for the most stupid reasons, many beyond their control. One old cat had been with his owner since he was a kitten, but she got too old to care for him. Another cat was adopted and returned. There was a horse-sized Malamute, probably adopted as a puppy because of its novelty, and given up when it reached its full size. People are more fickle than dogs, and even cats demonstrate more loyalty than your average human in my opinion. But young, old, cute, awkward, playful, morose, aggressive, or sweet, all these animals got handed the short end of the stick. Fate sometimes deals you a bad hand, even when you do everything right. It's harsh, but true. In order to get out of that, you just need to keep doing things right so you can eventually play a good hand.

Be friendly. Really, really friendly.

The happiest dogs are those that make the most friends quickly. The staff and volunteers love them, so they get special treatment and extra walks. The other dogs love them, so they always have playmates. Basically, life at the shelter is one gigantic party for them. They don't seem to notice or care that they have been abandoned because they are constantly surrounded by friends and loved ones. Sure, it's sad when their friends get adopted, but there are always new dogs to get to know and befriend. As long as you are willing to reach out, you will always have someone to share the joy of life with.

Don't be Too Proud for Love

The cats at the shelter tend to have the most difficulty adjusting to life after being pets. They want nothing more than to be held and petted, but they are cats, and cats don't need anybody. So they pretend to be aloof and unaffected, even as they give you sideways glances that say, "please, hold me." It's pretty clear that they are tormented by this inner conflict. The cats that are healthiest and happiest manage to accept their need for affection and are willing to interact with the cat cuddlers.

There is no Excuse Not to Stay in Shape

These dogs don't get to walk much, so they don't have lots of opportunity to run around. Still, some of the bull terriers are RIPPED! How do they get that way? I suspect it's the constant head-height jumping marathons they do in their tiny cages. Whenever I walk by their cages, there are always a few dogs just jumping up and down, launching themselves into the air over and over again. It's a little intimidating to see a dog flying up to your face with no effort, bouncing like a tennis ball.

Pee on Everything

Okay, I don't mean this literally. The dogs do it to mark where they have been. Every dog pees in the same spot, so it's kind of like a public message board where every dog can leave their mark. I expect it gets pretty difficult to tell who is who, and most scents probably get too diluted to distinguish, but the dogs come back every time to make sure everyone knows they were there. This willingness to leave their mark on the world, no matter how crowded things get, to always put in the effort of finding the popular spots and leaving at least a dribble, is an admirable quality. It denotes courage, the ability to put their identity into the public sphere, and a remarkable ability to regulate and ration bladder contents.

Maintain Dignity

If you are a cat, sometimes all you have is your dignity (if you are a dog, you probably never had much to begin with). If this is the case, it can help you get through the tough times to maintain that dignity, even in the face of all the difficulties that might befall you. If you're stuck in a room full of dozens of other cats, some sick, some psychotic, you can prevent yourself from slipping into total insanity and depression by holding yourself to higher standards. It is difficult to balance this with the need for affection, since you don't want to come off as completely needy, but grace in tough times is often as much as choice as an inherent ability.

Take Joy in the Little Things. Like Another Dog's Poop

I expect that not much changes from week to week for many of the regulars at the shelter. They get walked through the same yard, day after day. Any yet, they are so excited to go out every time, as if they are expecting to find treasure and adventure. Of course, many of them do. They notice the small changes, and get really excited about them, tracking scents of random woodland animals across the yard, barking at birds, spending entire walking sessions trying to identify new scents. The cats deem to derive endless inspiration from the same box of cat litter, and hide in the same place time after time as if you didn't see them do it the last time. They manage to keep their minds sharp by constantly searching out for new things. For those of us who have lots of variety in our lives, we might benefit by noticing the little things instead of focusing on how unchanging and boring the major things might be.