Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reading is Fundamental (for Dogs)

For better or worse, I am selfish. I am not charitably-inclined and I hoard my precious recreation time like Gollum and his Ring. This is why it was so out of character for me to apply to the local Animal Refuge League for a volunteer position. Now, I am very much an animal-person: I have had dogs and cats all my life (and goats, sheep and pigs for a while growing up); my current dog, Becky, is a rescue from the very same local ARL. I have never wanted to volunteer for the shelter before because I figured it would be heartbreaking to not be able to take home all the animals that were having a tough time finding new homes. But when the shelter posted a brand new volunteer program – “Reading & Relaxation” – I reconsidered.

This R&R program “gives volunteers an opportunity to spend one-on-one time reading and relaxing with dogs in the shelter and reminding them that calm behavior reaps its own rewards.” Giving a shelter dog some quality quiet time with a human who is not placing any demands on the dog should reduce the dog’s stress. A calmer dog has a better chance for adoption. Sign me up! I thought.

The application paperwork for volunteering at this shelter is daunting. In March, I filled out a four-page application which wanted, among other things, my level of education, my experience/skills (“Please feel free to attach a copy of your résumé” – I thought I probably didn’t have to do that) and two non-family member references. (Again, please keep in mind that this is for reading out loud to dogs). And just to give myself an edge over the competition, I even attached my proposed reading list:

James Herriot’s Dog Stories – Although I own the whole All Creatures Great and Small series, I thought the shelter dogs would prefer to start out with happy dog stories.

My Family and Other Animals – by Gerald Durrell. Durrell (brother of author Lawrence Durrell), who grew up to be an internationally-known naturalist, chronicles his family’s five-years on Corfu in the late 1930s. One of my all-time favorites - the only book I ever stole (from my third grade classroom) – this book is jam-packed with dogs, birds, bugs, scorpions and bats, as well as an entire menagerie of human characters.

Cat on a Hyacinth Hunt – by Carole Nelson Douglas. This mystery novel was given to me as a joke but it turned out to be a pretty good tale, enough so that I’ve read several others in the series. Set in Las Vegas, there are two protagonists: Midnight Louie, a black tomcat who thinks he’s Sam Spade; and Louie’s person, Temple Barr, a redheaded casino PR rep with a penchant for high heels and solving crime. I’m hoping that this would not be too edgy for the dogs to listen to, what with a saucy cat as a main character.

So I sent my application in and waited. And waited and waited until May 15th when I was contacted for Volunteer Orientation. With my three books at my side, I joined approximately fifteen other potential volunteers (most of whom wanted to walk dogs, cuddle cats and assist in adoption counseling) at the Orientation … which consisted of a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation read word for word, bullet-point by bullet-point, by the presiding volunteer. Our applications were handed back to us, in case we wanted to make any changes, and we were told that we would be called if and when anything opened up. If we were not called within six months, we’d have to reapply. Thank you for coming and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

It’s been over four months since I first submitted my application. I haven’t yet been called and, at this point, my volunteering fervor has waned somewhat. In fact, my ego has taken a bit of a blow: what kind of an incompetent can’t get picked to read out loud to unwanted dogs?


  1. (long reply)I share your volunteer excitement, and my first experience was to read (loving it already) aloud (um, okay, just as long as there's reading involved) for reading for the blind on tape. I signed up on-line and waited...and waited. Six months later I saw the same posting (but updated) signed up again. nothing, not one word. at least you got in the door. Mine was reading into a recording device.
    I'm currently volunteering in a small library/museum trying to help entry all 50-jillion books into a catalog and I love it and they are soo happy to see me every time I show up. So it's still books and a couple of cats in the warehouse and sometimes someone brings their dog.

  2. One of my while-you're-dreaming jobs is to own a bookstore: since I'm the owner, I can have a store-cat and also bring my dog to work every day. So long as there's tails among the tales, I can't see a downside. Enjoy your entry-fying!