Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Magic of Furry Day

We just got back from the beach with the dogs on an outing affectionately known to us volunteers for the longest time as Furry Day

Furry Day began as an outing organized by a few pioneer volunteers to the nearby beach with a few dogs. They had one car and limited hands. Only a few lucky dogs got to enjoy the sun, sand and endless sea. Both canine and human really enjoyed themselves each time. In her delight, one of the the participating volunteers - Lorna, proclaimed these outings as Furry Days. The name stuck. 

That was about six, seven years ago. 

Today, we have progressed as a shelter. For one, we have many more dogs. For two, we also have many more regular volunteers. For three, we have seen many more rules implemented over time as we grew larger. Yet throughout these years, the pleasure derived from the Furry Day experience has not diminished one bit. The beach is really a sea change (pun intended!) from shelter living that our dogs experience for the most part of their short lives. For the volunteers, the reward comes in seeing the dogs relaxed and happy. 

We used to hold such outings to the beach every month. We wish we could do it more often. But because such outings were invariably manpower and logistics intensive, we had to settle on doing so on a monthly basis. 

Furry Day was carried out monthly for almost five years. At the start, we didn't have enough help and would call on members of the public to pitch in. The few of us would supervise while the participants walked the dogs. In this way, Furry Day opened the door to regular volunteering at the shelter for many of our existing volunteers.

Later, as the shelter grew bigger and we were blessed with a sizable crop of regular volunteers, we decided to make Furry Day an internal affair. Safety considerations played a big part in our decision. As the number of dogs at the shelter grew and the larger the group heading out to the beach got, the level of unpredictability increased. On occasion, we found our dogs getting into embarrassing scuffles with each other or worse, running free from their leash by accident. For the good of both dogs and people, we decided that our dogs were best handled in public places outside the vicinity of the shelter by volunteers who were familiar with them and whom they were comfortable with. 

For the past year however, Furry Day fell by the wayside. 

We participated in adoption drives and flea markets each week with a vigour and for good reason too. Dogs who have been living for years at the shelter found homes at last. With the end of our lease drawing close and on the heels of the success of our rehoming efforts, there was a shift in the focus of the shelter. It seemed the most practical and obvious path to take, with the most permanent benefits for our dogs. A very efficient "rehome team" was carved from our group of regular volunteers to front these adoption drives and flea markets with pretty stellar results. In fact, amongst those in attendance at today's Furry Day, only a fraction of the dogs have joined us before.

Today's Furry Day was the first one we had in six months. We weren't holding our annual Walk-a-Paw event this year. In place of that, we felt that Furry Day was in order before the year drew to a close. Everything felt so pleasantly familiar as we went about carrying out the outing today. Some of these fellow volunteers were people I had known for years - people whom I would otherwise never have gotten the chance to cross paths with in my life. When I bumped into Joey first thing in the morning, she gushed about how excited she was. I couldn't help but flash her the same silly grin. 

We worked together with an easy camaraderie. We all knew what we had to do. Those who came early started feeding the first dose of medication to dogs who needed them. Others started cleaning the shelter - clearing the poo, washing away the pee, grime and fallen leaves and refilling the water bowls. Our unwieldy brown water tank was lugged out and packets of ice dumped inside to provide cold water for our dogs at the beach. On the "leash up" command, we started to put on their collars and attach their leashes. The dogs' eyes begin to light up with the knowledge that something good was in the air.

Our transport providers were systematic in loading the dogs and their handlers up and dropping them off. We had a mini crisis of sorts when our new Rottweiler, Duke, failed to get up the van or car on his own. We could not lift him because he would growl. This one didn't appreciate just any one touching his backside and we certainly didn't dare risk it with him. By some stroke of genius, one of the volunteers conjured a plank from nowhere that was sturdy enough to withstand all 50+ kilos of Duke. We managed to coax the poor boy to walk up the plank and onto the back of the van successfully. It took half an hour and provided me - the sideline spectator, with lots of entertainment. Though it was comical, I have to say our volunteers were innovative and pretty darned smart. I was ridiculously proud.

Today's weather was gorgeous. The morning sunlight was gentle and there was a constant breeze. The backdrop of that azure blue sky against the lush greenery of the park made for a very beautiful day. It made me think that perhaps the heavens knew this Furry Day was a long time coming - and perhaps, they were smiling down on us.

I have't been quite involved in the operation of the shelter this year as I used to be. Today, I am reminded of everything I love about volunteering at Gentle Paws. Volunteering is not about who does more. It is not about competition or politics. Volunteering, as I have often insisted that the word suggests, comes from the heart. It is about giving within the confines of our ability. It is meant to enrich our lives without necessarily being all-consuming. Organising this Furry Day after such a long lull underscored how much I loved working in a team, this team, toward our common goal. It was nothing particularly important or permanent - just the short term aim of allowing our dogs to have a fun morning out at the beach. But it was inclusive and the mood was genial. I had a truly enjoyable time.

Furry Day may seem frivolous in the light of our other achievements. Yet every time we manage to pull off a successful Furry Day, it leaves me chuffed and feeling like the most accomplished person in the whole wide world. Because a successful Furry Day means one good day in the lives of our shelter dogs. I have a sneaking feeling we will look back one day and figure that these little things were really big things that took up the most space in our hearts.

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