Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 2: A shelter volunteer learning the ropes

After yesterday, my second day as as a volunteer at the Contra Costa County Animal Services shelter in Martinez, I feel like I’m getting very close to actually doing some good.

My shift began by taking inventory of the dogs in the adoption kennels. These are the kennels that are the first ones visible in the building. They’re meant for the dogs that are ready to go to new homes. There are 24 individual kennels in all divided up into four wards of six kennels each.

Following that I was paired up with an experienced volunteer whom I would “shadow”, basically just observe as she took out the dogs for their exercise. Ideally, I’ll eventually be doing this by myself.

This was what I was looking forward to for a long time, interaction with the dogs.

The first dog we were assigned was a German Shepherd named “Tessa”. Before taking her out Jody, the volunteer I was paired with, reviewed Tessa’s temperament test results and notes from Tessa’s previous exercise sessions. We grabbed a tennis ball and a few treats and headed for Tessa’s kennel. Getting a leash on dog in a kennel is a little harder than it may sound. Tessa didn’t quite know what to do, but eventually she got her leash on.

Being a German Shepherd, Tessa’s a big dog. She was full of energy and was good at chasing the ball but not so good at giving it back. She jumped up a lot as well, something absolutely not tolerated, but it was easy enough to deal with by just turning your back. I’m worried though that this behavior may scare off potential adopters. She’d probably be better off being taken in by a rescue first.

What really made me feel like a real volunteer was taking out Princess, who was listed as a German Shepherd mix, but her blue tongue told me she was part-Chow as well. When I mentioned this to Jody she speculated that perhaps it was purposefully omitted as Chows have reputations as biters. Princess’ tests indicated that she did well on a leash but she pulled, and pulled hard.

When we got her out onto the dog run she gave us a clue about why she might have been pulling so hard. Right away she squatted down and began peeing for what seemed like 5 minutes. When she was done she then found another spot and left what was quite possibly the biggest pile of dog crap I have ever seen in my life. It honestly looked like something that came out of a horse. After having to use two dog cleanup bags to get it all I felt like I had paid some dues.


She’ll make a great pet for someone’s family. She had a very even disposition and was absolutely beautiful. And as we had just witnessed there was no doubt that she’s housetrained. I hope I’m right in believing she won’t have wait very long before someone adopts her.

We also took out a few Pit Bulls. They were all pleasant to deal with but one of them really touched me.

When I first saw Coltrane I thought to myself, “Jesus, look at this one. I’ll bet some dogfighter would love to get a hold of him.” Coltrane was a big, red Pit Bull with beady eyes and a disproportionately large head. He looked like he’d be more at home with a spiked collar and a large chain for a leash. My experience with him yesterday taught me a lesson in making pre-judgements.


When we got Coltrane out on the dog run he did as most of them do. He stretched his legs a little and relieved himself. But he wasn’t interested in sniffing around or running or playing. What he responded to was affection. All he wanted was love. He even rolled over for a belly rub.

I felt bad for him. His sweet and loving disposition was completely contradictory to his intimidating appearance. When you also factor in his breed’s reputation this guy’s got the odds against him. I can only hope that someone will give him a chance to let his personality shine through and that he can end up somewhere where he’ll get all the love and attention he desires.

My experiences over the last two weeks have reinforced the continuing need to educate, educate, educate. There are too many people who need to know why spaying and neutering is absolutely essential as well as fighting misconceptions about breed.

Check out the Contra Costa County Animal Services’ website at

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