Volunteering at the Capital Humane Society

Charli Saltzman

When I was 18, after I graduated from high school, I spent a little over a year in independent living training at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. One thing I had the opportunity to do was volunteer at an organization of my choice. I chose the humane society. I was very excited about working with the animals. Most of the time, I played with the cats, but my favorite part about volunteering was playing with the dogs. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play with the dogs as often as I did with the cats. The problem was that there were always signs on the cage. Some of these signs said the name of the dog, whether it had already been walked or not, or if it was a dog that was allowed to leave the kennel. Well, I obviously couldn’t see these signs, so I needed someone sighted to work with me. My job coach was there for a while, but when he moved away, I was on my own. While I wanted to push for more accessibility so I could keep walking the dogs, I was afraid to assert myself. Also, I didn’t want to come across as a hindrance, so I chose to spend my time with the cats.

Now, you will probably find that most of my posts are going to be about dogs. This is because I don’t have a lot of experience with cats. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know much about them, and I was nervous to work with them. I couldn’t believe the different temperaments of the cats. It is so funny to me because it seems like most dogs are friendly and like attention. When it came to the cats, some would gladly approach me so I could lift them out of the cage while others would hiss when I approached. I wonder now if maybe they could tell I was nervous. The hissing of the cats didn’t make me feel any better. So, to start out, I’m going to tell you a story about one of the days I was working at the humane society.

I remember climbing in the cab with my guide dog, heading to my apartment to leave my dog at home, and then heading out to the humane society. I had Errol at the time, and I took him home because the humane society recommended I refrain from bringing him with me due to possible diseases from other animals. When I got there that day, I grabbed my apron and headed into the room where the cats were. I remember I had this key chain that I would hook onto the cage door so, when I came back, I would remember which cage I had taken the cat from. As I reached a cage, the cat inside didn’t sound too happy. She made a little sound, and I opened the gate. Somehow, she managed to slip past me and climb out of the cage. I was horrified. Now how was I going to find this cat? Calling “here kitty kitty” was not working. One of the other volunteers happened to come in, and I asked her if she saw a cat. Of course, that silly cat was sitting right in front of a bunny cage. The volunteer handed me the cat, and I headed in the other room where I could sit and hold her. However, that sign of not being able to find her said I should have put her back in her cage the minute I had her in my arms. This is because, once I reached the other room and let her walk around, she refused again to come to me. Worse yet, when I reached for her, I felt those teeth dig in the top of my hand as she grabbed it, refusing to let go. It is important to recognize that I have a very low pain tolerance, and that cat bite or whatever it was hurt. However, I did not want to give up. For some reason, she would let me reach over and pet her, but any time I tried to reach for her to pick her up, she would grab the top of my hand with her teeth. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Somehow I had to get that cat back in her cage, but she wouldn’t let me pick her up. I knew I couldn’t go find someone because I couldn’t leave her alone, so I just sat there petting her. I thought that, for a second, she was calming down, so as stupid as it was, I reached for her again. I bet you can guess what happened. Her hissing was followed by a teeth grab of my hand.

I was getting frustrated. As I was sitting there, someone came in, but it wasn’t a volunteer. It was a person looking to adopt a cat. Usually, if someone came in, I as a volunteer would take the cat I had back into the room and place the cat in the cage so the people looking to adopt could see all of the cats through the window. However, when those people came in, there wasn’t anything I could do. I didn’t want them to see the cat biting me, so I just reached over and stroked her fur, making it look like everything was fine. Later on after the people had left, another worker came in. I finally asked him if he could get the cat because she wouldn’t let me pick her up. I don’t remember if she hissed at him when he took her back to her cage, but I was glad to have that part of it over with.

It was at that time I felt like I was in a place where I just wasn’t supposed to be. I wanted to be with the dogs instead. I still had at least an hour left of my volunteer time for that day, but I wanted to just sit there and do nothing. I didn’t want to play with another cat. However, I decided that I couldn’t do that. I was persistent. I was a hard worker. I can’t let one bad cat experience turn me away from cats. So, I took a deep breath, headed into the room, and retrieved the key chain from the cage. Hmm, why was there a hissing sound coming from that cage? Oh yeah, the cat’s there. I quickly grabbed my key chain and headed down the row of cages. I heard a soft meow coming from a cage. I thought, now this might be a very friendly cat. I approached slowly, trying to rid myself of the nervousness I felt. But when I opened the cage, my nervousness and anxiety vanished as a huge, black cat, crawled from the cage into my arms. I gingerly lifted the cat and carried him to the other room. I thought maybe he wanted to run around the room for a bit, so I let him go. However, he snuggled up close to me, looked up at my face, and purred loudly. Time flew quickly, and when it was time to leave, I took the cat back.

I don’t know for sure what I learned from this experience. Never touch cats? No, absolutely not. I will confess that I sort of have a fear of the hissing ones, but once I know a cat is friendly, I automatically love it. I think, if there is one thing I learned, it’s that I should have done more research on cats before I volunteered. The humane society gave me some information about them, but I should have been more prepared. See, my family did not own cats. In fact, I wasn’t hardly ever around cats when I was younger. While at first I blamed the cat for her behavior, I realized that those cats have a story. Many are abandoned, and some of them were probably abused. Perhaps my cane scared the cat, and she was only trying to defend herself. Obviously, I would have never hit her with it, but she didn’t know that. Thinking about what that cat could have gone through makes me sad.

When I reflect back on this experience at the humane society, I think about everything I learned, and I’m glad I was able to have that experience. It was a fun time of my life. Sure, there are things I would have done differently. For one thing, I would have stuck with it longer. I felt I had to leave because I needed to focus on my independent living training. However, I wish I would have given it more time. Working at the humane society was a good learning experience, and if this is something you are interested in, you should definitely consider volunteering for the humane society.

Below, you can read about some cat stories.

http://www.animalcenter.org/adoptions/stories/2014/2014_11-Loving-Cat-Abandoned-with-Kittens.aspx

http://www.alleycat.org/strayorferal

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