Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shelter From The Storm

It's been a long time since I've logged any new entries. I started a few but struggled bringing them home. My father's passing sparked what's been a long period of questioning, self doubt and general gloominess about getting older and running out of time, big picture stuff that could exact more influence than I wanted it to. After all, working with dogs is far more often than not a joyful thing. I wanted the next thing I wrote about to have some of that. Let some fresh air and sunshine in the room. The general idea for this entry's been bouncing around my brain for a while now but I wasn't really sure how to approach it. This is about the people here in Rhode Island who work and volunteer for animal shelters and rescue organizations. It's too big for one entry so I'm going to address it as a series, each entry focusing on a different organization. I have an abiding affection for the people I'll be writing about here and that made me worry this will be just so much back slapping, no matter how I managed to present it. Then I thought, screw it, what's wrong with some public adulation? Maybe I'll manage to make it interesting, thread in some humor and intrigue

I know some of these fine folks more than others and of course our interactions have largely been by way of this common interest we share. You could argue I'm only seeing them through a narrow lens and that's not enough to shower them with praise. Fair enough. It's possible for example that a few of them are master criminals or evil geniuses in their spare time, not the selfless altruists I think of them as. That would be intriguing but I doubt it. It's also possible that some are doing the things they do for the attention they may garner on social media, but I doubt that too. That people respond to them and the things they do on social media site reminds me that everything is not complete shit, not superficial, innocuous, not meaningless. It's these people that collectively form a counter balance for the myriad knuckle heads that dot our little landscape. I won't waste precious key strokes blathering on about said knuckleheads, remember this is supposed to be sunshine and fresh air. Maybe a post script blurb on knuckleheads at the end of this? Yes that will do nicely. 

 While I'm thinking about it, a confession concerning the title of this entry which, you may have guessed, arrived by way of listening to Bob Dylan, an activity people of my age, along with musings about rotary dial phones and vinyl records, are known to indulge in from time to time. It's not a particularly clever way to find one's self inspired but as long as it remains illegal to sample psychedelics in this state, I'm left to work with what I've got. If said contraband should one day be deemed copacetic however, well, prepare yourselves for "How Come Your Beagle Looks Paisley?" I digress,...

Very well then, let the back slapping begin! I have to start with the Warwick Animal Shelter. It's been said our lives can be broken down to eight or fewer key moments that ultimately define it, send it off on a trajectory that changes us irreversibly. There are thirty-nine municipalities Sue and I could've moved to when we came here from Massachusetts in the late 90's but we chose Warwick and it's here where I met Ann Corvin, then the city's shelter keeper, now the director. She agreed to let me work with the shelter dogs there despite approaching her about it following a long period of tumult that had left some hard feelings between a local volunteer organization and some shelter staff. It's a long story best left to the people who were involved directly in it. Sufficed to say it got ugly and left some hard feelings behind. Volunteers were just being let back in albeit with a jaundiced eye. The shelter was an old, cramped, decrepit building. Passed tensions remained palpable on some days, everything seemed old, falling apart at the seams. None of that mattered in retrospect. This is where it all started. Without that sad, old building, without Ann's willingness to give me a outlet to work with shelter dogs, none of what's happened for me as trainer would have happened. It's worth mentioning the first dog I worked with bit me. I remember walking through the entire run that first time, looking for the dog who in my estimation would be least threatening, a little 35lb black and white mutt named, appropriately, "Snoopy". What could happen? I'd soon meet Barbara Emmons, the director of volunteers at the time. An RNP from local Kent Hospital, Barbara struck me immediately as someone who would never be distracted by bullshit. She and Ann got it and between the two of them, they'd play a big role in shepherding that shelter through some serious growing pains. Always with compassion, humor and intelligence. Marylou, Jan, Deb, John and his wife Cathy, Paul and his wife Ruth rounded out that first group of staff and volunteers. All great, people, each worthy of their own time here.  

Jackie, Ann (with Teddy) & Deb

Over the years the shelter would move into it's present location next door, it would be very nearly destroyed in the flood of 2010 before being restored to it's present state. With the brave efforts of Barbara Walsh, Mary Tilton and others who I'm no doubt giving short shrift to, the shelter was redefined in a way that's cleared the path for volunteers to help with things that the shelter's budget would not otherwise be able to accommodate. With that enter Maureen, Deb Arenburg, Noreen, Judy, Jackie, Maggie and several others. Staff and volunteers who've collectively done everything from, maintenance, huge fund raising efforts, walking the dogs, washing and cleaning, photographing the animals up for adoption, follow up on adoptions and even the bringing about the construction of an outdoor pen where dogs can run around, get some fresh air and be introduced to adoptive families. The extraordinarily improved conditions can be directly attributed to these people and their collective efforts. If character is best judged by who you are when no one is looking, it abounds here. There's no one there looking to be beatified and no one there who hasn't been witness to some genuinely inhumane experiences. 

Dogs, cats and the occasional ferret, parrot, turtle or rabbit find themselves at this shelter for different reasons. Some are inescapable, inevitable, others the unfortunate, unwitting result of neglect, bad decision making, uncaring and cruelty. It can seem unrelenting at times and while there's the occasional need to vent by way of the colorful use of expletives (strictly professional mind you, never with any member of the public present.) This group maintains a tight ship that takes time to make sure it's residents are finding some measure of enrichment while in their care. It's truly something and while not unique to the Warwick Animal Shelter it is here where I find my core. This is where I go to get grounded. It's also where I found Reno and Miles, two dogs that changed my life. Like the bumper sticker says, "Who Rescued Who?" 

I've said that shelter volunteers are altruists and that's true but volunteer work is not without some reciprocity. Watch volunteers interacting with the cats, dogs etc, walking, playing, training, helping with introductions, even feeding, cleaning and grooming. Meeting these basic needs feels good, a lasting good you take with you when you leave. The feedback from a dog that comes in filthy, parasite ridden and hungry when they've had a bath, been relieved of fleas and ticks and fed, given the medical attention they sometimes need. It's profoundly rewarding. There is the gloomy side as well. The hard business of shelter work. Recognizing that adoption may not be a safe option and the requisite choices that come with reaching that conclusion. That brings me to my post script.

I'm going to stand on my soap box and extend some long overdue feedback to a certain local group given to bloviation and no small amount of shit stirring. I think far too little of them to give them mention save to say their name is a transparent attempt to disguise their actual mission of poorly researched grandstanding, often before the state assembly. Normally I'd applaud civic minded activity but not here. They are an idiom and little more. In particular, "An empty vessel makes the most noise." a personal favorite,. Alas, I've let clouds and exhaust fumes into this otherwise cheerful entry but this particular group of knuckleheads, led by someone who's spent nary a moment in any animal shelter, is given to spouting libelous nonsense on social media about my friends at the Warwick Animal Shelter. Those employing the use of their frontal lobe and even a modicum of common sense will ignore them as I probably should. The angry, mouth breathing trolls who are their acolytes however, well that's a different story. The vitriolic, often threatening sputum typed in response to their ramblings is at it's least, fundamentally misplaced and at it's worse, very, very scary. To this group of empty headed troglodytes and their supporters I present you with both middle fingers. Take a break from trolling. You're not bound to suffer turd slinging from the likes of me, you're otherwise kind hearted blogger. I'm only grinning a little bit as I type this final sentence. Try critical thinking, you might like it.