SETTLING IN

If I had a dollar for every time I tried to sit down and write this post, I’d be able to buy a lot of bully sticks. For some reason I just can’t get the thoughts from my brain on to my screen in a way that I’m happy with. But I just snuggled into a cozy corner of Starbucks with a peppermint mocha and classical Christmas music, and I’m not leaving until I get this done. Nothing like setting myself up for success, right?

The past eight months have felt like my life has been turned upside down and re-centered, all at the same time. To give you a refresher, I left my 9-5 event planning job in May to take two part time jobs: one on the behavior team at my local animal shelter, and one doing dog training with private clients.

I am so happy I made the jump, and there’s nothing I regret about the decision, but I can’t say it’s been completely easy and stress-free. The transition from being development staff for an animal shelter to working hands on with the animals was harder than I expected. I’ve worked in two other shelters prior to this one; I’ve seen and experienced what sheltering is about. Or so I thought. But I spent the first few months in my new role exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Working so closely with the animals has its positives and negatives.

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My favorite part about working on a shelter behavior team is, as you can probably guess, the behavior. Oh my goodness, the stuff we get to see! I think I’ve seen more dog behavior here in eight months than I’d see in years as a private dog trainer. We evaluate every dog that comes in, so I’ve experienced the squishy, adorable emaciated stray dog, and the gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies-better-get-my-defensive-handling-skills-ready owner surrender. We quite literally never know what is going to walk through the door.

I’ve also found that working at an open-admission city shelter has made me fall more in love with my community. I’m proud to work for an organization that values the people we serve and prioritizes keeping our community safe. I get to know the people coming to us for help, whether I’m talking with them about a dog they are surrendering, or helping to match them with their new best friend, or giving them advice about an animal they just adopted. Putting a face with the homes our animals are going to helps me remember how I can best help animals by helping the people who love them. That part is, as a whole, quite rewarding.

I’m sure you can also guess what the toughest part is. It’s both a blessing and a curse to get to be involved in decisions about euthanasia. So far, there hasn’t been a decision made that I don’t agree with, but that doesn’t necessarily make any of them easier. I’ve been there as we said goodbye to animals who are no longer healthy, happy or comfortable. I’ve fed them hot dogs as they took their last breaths, knowing that someone failed them long before they came to us, and that they spent their final days knowing what a consistent meal, warm bed, and fierce love felt like. The emotional weight the job of a shelter worker brings is something I actually welcome, as I know it takes a certain kind of person to be able to do our jobs with responsibility, compassion and empathy. If that person is me, then so be it.

The following are all pictures from work over the past few months. We really do have a great time working with the animals. I love love love my team. While we do have to deal with the tough stuff, admittedly there is a decent amount of “playing with puppies” (aka what my friends think I do all day) as well.

At my other job, I find that my work with private clients helps to balance out the emotional fatigue I sometimes carry from the shelter. The shelter is full of animals who are not yet committed to by anyone (loved by the staff, of course, but you know what I mean). With my private clients, I see the dedicated families putting work in with their pet dogs. It’s refreshing, and it’s usually just what I need in the middle of my work week (I’m at the shelter Sunday – Tuesday and see clients the rest of the week). Having the time to really dedicate to my clients makes working with them that much more rewarding. I’ve gotten so close with so many of my regulars. From rushing one client’s dog to the emergency vet because he got bloat when I was walking him (he survived!), to mourning the passing of another’s pup as the dog declined during the months we spent training her younger sister, my clients truly feel like family to me sometimes!

Through all the ups and downs, when I take a step back and look at where I am now, I can’t help but realize how different this life feels than my “past life” (which is how I refer to my role as an event planner). There’s never a day I wake up and dread going to work — in fact, quite the opposite. Even though I work pretty much six full days a week, I’m not feeling any kind of burnout yet. I think that’s because I am so fulfilled by what I’m doing for “work.” My friends are hitting the age where you start to realize working your butt off in a window-less cubicle for a nice paycheck kind of sucks. I can’t say I relate to that. I almost feel, I don’t know, selfish? self conscious? in a way, because I’ve been able to find a career that makes me so incredibly happy, while many of my peers are miserable at their desk jobs.

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Life outside of work is great as well. I’ve found a mental escape in the workout group I joined a little over a year ago. Three times a week I go run a bunch of miles with them before I start my day with the dogs. They helped me run the Marine Corps Marathon in October! These workouts and these people help so much with my work-life balance.

I’m spending time with my friends. I continue to fall in love with DC every day. My friend Eran fostered another dog that every once in a while I pretended was my own. I’m giving seminars on behalf of Dog Latin. Life is good, guys. I’m really lucky.

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A big shout of to my friends who kept calling me out for not keeping up with this space the past six months. Hopefully I’ll be back soon.

Happy Holidays!


Love Thy Neighbor

The tragic events that played out at Navy Yard yesterday are, thankfully, few and far between.  But when they happen, they come out of nowhere. They rock the world. They make time stop moving, for hours at a time. They change people’s lives forever.  And they sure do make you think.

These events bring out compassion in all of us. Suddenly, even though the majority of us don’t have relatives or loved ones at the scene, we’re all panicked and heartbroken and distraught with the rest of the country. We pray for the families of those who are affected.  We worry about the human lives that will never be the same.  It’s what brings us all together in a time of fear, horror and tragedy. It’s what brings change so that these awful events don’t happen twice.

The animal welfare community can sometimes lack compassion. Not for the animals, no way – but towards our fellow humans.  We judge and we make assumptions and we don’t wait to hear explanations. I see it the worst when owners have to re-home pets. I’m guilty of it, I know we all are. We become hurt and jaded and we experience compassion fatigue because we work in a world where the number of lives that need saving is never ending.

But after days like yesterday, the last thing I want to do is fight with my neighbor.  The last thing I want to do is spit hate towards someone whose story I am deciding for myself, instead of hearing it from them. I don’t even want to go close to Facebook, where trolling and bullying others is rampant. I want to wake up tomorrow and face my job in animal welfare with a “how can I help you help your pet” attitude and nothing less. I want to take a minute to stop and listen to people and to actually believe them, instead of always assuming the worst. I want to be more compassionate.

I know it’s hard to stay open minded. Like I’ve already said: it’s easy to become hardened and jaded in animal rescue, and even in this everyday, often violent world we live in. But the second we stop loving our neighbors, wanting to help them and being open to lending a hand when they need it is when the animals begin to suffer. Sure, there are some nasty humans out there – but just like the animals we help, people are individuals. They all come with their own background and their own stories. No two people are alike; no two situations are the exact same. When we move past our own judgements, we open up a world of solutions.

I don’t know about you, but facing the world with love instead of hate seems like a much better idea when there is already so much hate out there. Yes it can be hard, but you just never know where that positive attitude will make a difference.

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