A few weeks ago I started volunteering at a local dog shelter.
I’ve been wanting to do it for months, but didn’t want to go alone the first time. I hate not knowing what to expect (it fills me with anxiety and/or panic), and therefore find it helpful to have a friend or someone else I know come with me so I don’t get overwhelmed. My business partner agreed to come with me, so I could finally go. Now I go alone, which I prefer, because I can control my time, what I do, and get alone time with the doggies.
It’s been really good for me. There are definitely challenges, because I tend to get attached to animals pretty quickly, and it breaks my heart leaving them behind every week. Especially one particular dog. My girl, Athena. Even though I walk different dogs all the time, I still at least play with her for a while every week, and might take her for a walk as well if I have enough time. I’ll add photos of her at the end of this post.
Spending time with these amazing creatures feels so good. It’s also my weekly exercise (I should exercise at other times during the week but it’s boring, so don’t). I might not be making a huge difference to their lives, but at least I can do a little. And that’s good enough. When I’m there, and with them, I don’t feel like a burden. I feel like I matter. At least to those doggies. I can smother them with love and they don’t push me away.
In one of our sessions when I told my therapist I was going to the shelter the next day to start volunteering, she was really glad to hear that, but told me to take different dogs every week so I don’t become too attached. But now she knows that’s just not possible (at least not yet). When I was telling her last week how badly I want to adopt Athena but that my dad won’t budge and doesn’t want a dog around, even if he doesn’t have to have anything to do with it, she encouraged me to continue going and not give it up despite that. She already knows me pretty well… That something like that (the disappointment at my dad not allowing me to have a dog while living with them) tends to de-motivate me from doing things that are good for me, or that I enjoy. I’m glad she said that because I have been wondering whether it’s worth the heartache of having to leave them behind when I go. But I want to do good in this world, and giving back to these dogs is one way I can do that. They deserve it.
Another reason I enjoy spending time with dogs is because it’s the one time when I’m out in the world that I don’t feel on high alert and sensory experiences don’t overwhelm me as much. Nothing else has such a soothing effect on me, other than a hug of course (which is always way too short anyway). I feel safe in the presence of large breed dogs in particular. Maybe it goes back to one of the family dogs we had when I was a kid. Her name was Cindy, a large cross-breed we had for about 5 years. She was my best, and only friend for a big portion of my childhood. I always felt safe and loved when I was spending time with her.
One Sunday when I got back from visiting my mom for the weekend, I couldn’t find Cindy anywhere. My dad told me they had put her down. She wasn’t sick, but she had bitten one of the other dogs. His theory has always been that the first sign of aggression signals that it’s time to have a dog put down (which I now know is bullshit). I was devastated. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. And his other dog, wasn’t even seriously hurt. She just had a little mark. I was furious, but of course didn’t express it in front of my dad. I’ll never forget that day.
There was another dog at the shelter, Apollo, who reminded me of Cindy, and I bonded with him the very first day. Last week when I wanted to take him for a walk, they told me that he had been adopted. It triggered this horrible memory of having Cindy just gone so suddenly without having had the opportunity to say goodbye. On the one hand I was happy that he got adopted and now has his own family, but a part of me also felt really heartbroken that day. Now? I’m just glad that he found his forever home.
I told A about my volunteering and she said it’s a good opportunity to work on my attachment. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now I can definitely see it. A form of exposure therapy for people with attachment issues. Just wonder whether it will translate into human relationships? I don’t see why not.