Giving Back to Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Often people who have lost beloved animal companions come to our workshops and talk or write to us about their grief. They usually mention that the depth and strength of sadness has surprised and overwhelmed them. After listening to these broken hearts, we offer them a way to lessen their pain. We suggest they fill that hole in their hearts by giving back some of the love animals have brought to their lives. We encourage grieving friends of animals to volunteer in some way at their local animal shelters.
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.
Kids and “Throwaway”
Animals In our book “Angel Animals®: 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 any-one 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 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 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 would 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 exhilarated.
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.
Allen and Linda Anderson are co-editors of “Angel Animals®: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals” (A Plume Book) available in local and Internet bookstores. Angel Animals® plush toys are for sale at www.mindwalking.com or you may call (305) 532-3111. The Angel Animals® Foundation Web site is www.angelanimals.com . Tax-deductible donations and story submission to the nonprofit AAF are gratefully accepted at P.O. Box 26488, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or on the website. For more information call (612) 925-3309.
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