I was at a party that my school organised for graduating students on Friday. It was a night when everyone came all decked out in their best clothes for a fancy meal and a whole lot of socialising. It was sort of like prom night, except they call it collegiate dinner.
I wasn't exactly bored. The food was good, the program entertaining enough. But everyone looked so glamorous that day, I couldn't help but feel a little self-conscious in my plain blue dress and big waist belt. As you might have guessed, I am not quite the social butterfly. On the contrary, I am exactly the gawky kind who is slow to warm up to others and only comfortable with those I know well.
Suddenly, in that resplendent ballroom filled with my well-dressed peers, it finally dawned upon me why I love the shelter so. I never have to feel self-conscious before the dogs at Gentle Paws. I go to the shelter, dressed in my raggedy t-shirt and shorts and the dogs treat me like I'm the most desirable person on earth. Qiqi's tail will wag a mile a minute when I let myself into her room. Wanda will stick her head out of the small opening in the gate to reach out to me. Dribble will sit down by the gate and tilt his head as he gazes at me.
At the shelter, love is all around. No one will judge you. No one will criticise you. It is the one place where you can fully and truly be you.
When looked at from another perspective, volunteering at the shelter ceases to be a one way street. You help the dogs by cleaning the stalls and clearing the poop. But if you stick around long enough, you will realise that you get back more than you bargained for. Because in the process, these dogs become your friend. They sit with you, let you cuddle them and when you are so upset your tears start free falling, these furry creatures lean in close to you and help lick them away.
Helping to run the shelter has taught me so many things. Not only have I been at the receiving end of so much love, I have learnt to mingle with newcomers to the shelter, handle enquiries through email, express my innermost thoughts to the readers of this blog, organise large scale events like our furry days, shamelessly hawk our wares at the flea markets, handle the feeding of 30+ excited dogs, walk more than one large dog at a time, get down and dirty washing the stalls and overcome whatever remaining fear of filth, poop and pee that I had once upon a time. Looking at Wee and Florence tirelessly giving their all to the dogs also opened my eyes to what dedication and passion truly meant.
It's not perfect... I still have no idea how to use the washing machine, administer medication to the dogs that need them, wash the fans or mend the floor. When Florence suggests packing our store, I still flee because I am allergic to packing. But what the shelter has given me is far more than I could ever give back. It made me less of a pampered kid and helped me grow into something... more.
This is my shelter story thus far and I hope it never ends.