Giving Back to Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Often people who have lost beloved animal companions
come to our workshops and talk or they write to us about their grief. They
usually mention that the depth and strength of sadness has surprised and
overwhelmed them. After we listen to these broken hearts, we offer them a way to
lessen their pain. We suggest that they fill that hole in their hearts by giving
back some of the love the animals have brought to their lives. We encourage
grieving friends of animals to volunteer in some way for their local animal
If you're someone who feels sad over the loss of a pet,
at your local animal shelter you'll find grateful little creatures who need the
love you long to give to an animal. Shelter animals have been abandoned or left
behind. Sometimes they've been abused and mistreated. They wait for the return
of humans they loved. These animals long for homes that have vanished in an
instant. Abused shelter animals cower at the sound of a human voice and shrink
away from touch, making them unadoptable. These animals especially need tons of
reassurance that humans aren't all an uncaring or cruel lot.
In return for kindness these special animals give
volunteers the kind of heartwarming benefits a person only receives by giving
without expecting a return.
"Thowaway" Kids and "Throwaway"
In our book Angel Animals(r): Exploring Our
Spiritual Connection with Animals, we have a wonderful story that
illustrates how much shelter animals give to volunteers who help them. Linda
Lansdell, a former teacher of special-needs youngsters in Canada, wrote about
her experiences with teaching some very tough kids. Linda says that in the group
home for troubled teens where she worked, her classroom contained former
prostitutes and drug users. She describes them as society's "throwaway
kids"-youngsters who were homeless and had no families to love and care for
them. Consequently these youngsters had severe emotional problems and low
self-esteem. It was difficult for Linda to help them believe anyone would ever
want or need them.
One summer Linda was discussing with a friend the
programs she'd been designing for her students when the person mentioned that in
their community teens could volunteer at the local animal shelter. Linda phoned
the shelter's director. She immediately liked Linda's idea of offering an
opportunity for homeless and abused teens with broken hearts to help homeless
and abused animals with broken hearts. Linda and the director worked out a
system in which her class would come to the shelter once each week to shovel
waste, clean dog runs, wash dog and cat bowls, and feed the animals.
But there was one chore which could prove risky. After
doing the regular tasks, the youngsters could walk one of the dogs,
unsupervised, in the wooded area behind the shelter. This was a potentially
dangerous activity because these kids often ran away from the group home. By
doing jobs at the shelter, they'd be earning the freedom and responsibility of
taking a dog where no one could see them. It could become their chance to escape
their court-ordered confinement.
All the staff at the group home helped to work out a
point system which the teens could use to earn volunteering at the animal
shelter. To qualify students had to do things such as curb tempers, be
cooperative, and complete their schoolwork. Linda took the teens who earned
enough points over to the shelter each Wednesday morning.
When the kids started working at the animal shelter,
they met animals who reminded them of themselves. Even the toughest kids had
compassion for the animals' pain. Linda explained to her class that these
animals needed their love and care. Some students got the idea right away and
others were slower to warm up to the project. But Linda and the other staff at
the group home were soon amazed at how the youngsters began to transform by
giving service to animals in this way. These teenagers were learning to accept
unconditional love for the first time in their lives, not from parents or family
members, but from cats, dogs, and rabbits.
As the weeks and months progressed, Linda's students
began to become better human beings as a result of their contact and volunteer
services to the shelter animals. Even the young, tough, prison-hardened males
wrote in their daily journals for Linda to read about feelings they felt were
too private and tender for them to tell the whole class. Class discussions about
the animals and their plight led to the teens being able to talk about their own
pain, loss, and grief. Some students began to express their feelings about the
animals in artwork and poems that the shelter displayed. Through these creative
expressions, they were able to communicate how much they and the animals longed
to live in loving families.
Linda's story has a beautiful and a happy ending. She
ran this volunteer program for three years. In all that time not one student,
who walked a dog unsupervised, ran away. Linda closes her story with the words:
"The world may have forgotten about and not needed my kids, but the animals sure
did. These shining angel animals showed some very needy kids the way back home
from heartbreak and abuse."
Animals Need Your Loving or Broken
Remember animal shelters any time but especially when
your heart needs healing. You'll find animals who need you as much as you need
them. If you can't volunteer, consider donating money or asking the shelter what
items it needs. Shelters often need newspapers to line litter boxes, old towels,
dog biscuits, or people to help them edit newsletters. They are most grateful
for people who will help with fundraising events, adoption, greeting visitors,
petting and playing with cats, walking and playing or training larger and older
dogs, or being foster parents for sick or pregnant animals. Shelter animals need
much reassurance that they're still loved and will someday find a good home. You
can give it to them.
You may be afraid that you'd find working with these
animals to be depressing, but it's just the opposite. They're so grateful for
your love and attention, you'll walk away from your volunteer experience feeling
And as an added benefit, the next soul who is meant to
enrich your life could be wagging his tail at your arrival or licking your hand
one day. That's how our little kitten Cuddles found us.