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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Pets
by Sandi Schiffman
2008-03-26

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I am a lowly kennel worker at Animal Haven ( www.animalhavenshelter.org ) , a no-kill shelter with locations in New York State. My main tasks are walking and feeding the animals; doing laundry; and cleaning up urine and poop. I love my job.

__________

Some of the residents of Animal Haven.

__________

My job starts before the shelter opens. I open the lock box and raise the security gate in front of the boutique and go downstairs to the dog corrals. The first thing I see just melts my heart—four 8-week-old rottie/shepherd/lab faces and ( eight paws sticking ) out from under the corral door, desperately trying to see who just came in to give them their freedom.

The first order of business is to walk the housebroken dogs. Then I can go free the rottie pups. They blast out of the corral, falling over each other, racing through the basement, jumping on me and on each other and driving the other dogs crazy.

I mop up their corral and put clean bedding and toys down and get their food. By the time I put the food down, the clean bedding is already soiled. I feed the other two litters: 7-week-old Chihuahuas and 8-week-old Westies. It's the equivalent of the running of the miniature bulls. They race into the corral where all the donated towels, sheets and bedding are piled high—but not for long. The game is King of the Hill. I almost have to clean up after myself from laughing so hard!

Let me say up front: I am not a cat person. That is not to say I don't like cats—I just don't understand them. As I clean the litter boxes, I hear a siren-like sound coming from behind me. I don't dare look to see which cat the noise is coming from, but I do wonder, 'Should I be worried?' Whoever told me cats are neat hasn't seen the amount of cat litter scattered around outside the litter boxes.

I live in a small NYC apartment with a seven-pound dachshund. That is my reality. My Walter Mitty life is in a huge house with lots of land. The shelter is a fair substitute. With no one else there in the morning, the four-story place is mine. I imagine myself living here with several of the big dogs.

As I clean the lounge, the dogs use the couches as trampolines. They fly from couch to couch, eventually landing together and sharing the same one, limbs all over each other. I honestly see them smiling.

From the lounge, we head to the enormous training room. The dogs let loose as I vacuum. I love watching them. Every so often they bound back to me for a pet or a kiss. When I finish vacuuming, we go back downstairs. They know the destination is their corrals, so they get as far as the boutique and they plop on the dog bed behind the counter. Who am I to move a rottie and lab looking so adorable sharing a bed together? I then restock the shelves in the boutique until my shift ends and the manager arrives.

I know some people think working at a shelter must be very depressing. This was the case a few days ago when a tall man with a box rang the buzzer early in the morning. Being alone, I had to make a quick decision about whether he was an axe murderer or a delivery man. I opened the door, only to find out that the 'delivery' was his own cat. He said he couldn't keep her. We are not set up to do intake so I told him I couldn't take the cat. And this big strong man started crying. He could barely speak. I said 'OK, OK,' and between sobs, got some information about the cat. As his sobs intensified, I assured him we would find a great home for his cat and it would be loved.

Fortunately, that was an isolated incident. Working at the shelter is uplifting. The dogs almost always bring a smile to my face and I know that even though they must go to new homes, we will find good homes where they will be really wanted.


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