Thursday, March 10, 2016

In defense of people

"The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog."

Quotes like this, together with stories of abuse and abandonment can make us rather weary of the human race.

In dog rescue, it is easy to become depressed with the state of things. There just doesn't seem to be enough room for all the dogs in the world. You are often frustrated, emotional and desperate. Your world can grow pretty dark.

But bad things somehow always manage to have a greater hold on us than good ones. The shocking and abhorrent grab the headlines easily and angrily. But what about all the amazing things that have been quietly taking place at the sidelines, especially in the field of dog rescue? Those need a feature too. So that's what I will try to do.

Sponsor a Dog, please?

If you have explored this blog, you will know that we have a sponsor a dog program. It's just a label for a simple arrangement where members of the public make a monetary contribution to the shelter each month. It has silently been in operation since 2010.

Some sponsors have been quietly and unobtrusively making donations to us for years without seeking anything in return. It might be a mere $10 donation each month - some give more. But multiply $10 by the 60 odd months since the program commenced... That's minimally $600 of one's savings - given to us, for our dogs, for free.

I used to partake in the running of the shelter. I remember constantly feeling humbled by the generosity of these sponsors and the leap of faith they took in us. We may not be wealthy but really, we are rich in other ways that count.

All aboard the Paw Pack train

My last official project for the shelter was the sale of Paw Packs at the end of 2015 as part of an effort to raise funds for the upcoming year. Each Paw Pack consisted of a canvas tote bag, a T-shirt and beverage vouchers bundled together.

When I first embarked on this small project, I thought I was helming it alone. But help was so forthcoming that it turned out to be a joint effort from us all.

As a birthday gift from her colleagues, one of our volunteers requested from them the partial sponsorship of canvas tote bags for the shelter. She also proposed to help obtain beverage vouchers to beef up our rather bare Paw Pack.

Another of our volunteers approached me on the side to say she had been thinking about sponsoring the cost of printing the T-shirts. We had just taken in a bunch of senior retired k-9 dogs at that time, a few with existing medical conditions. She wanted to lend a hand monetarily and found our Paw Pack project to be a suitable avenue. Plus, she added, it was bonus period and this was how she wanted to spend it.

No, wait - that's not all.

Yet another of the volunteers pitched in to help me do up an efficient, functional, colour coded excel sheet to help ease my administrative load. I suffered from severe allergies to the excel software.

Another sent in her large order way before we even launched the sale in a show of ever ready support. She stuffed me with cash for the packs before I could ask... Fess up! Do you and your friends really need so many shirts?

Then, there was our volunteer artist who submitted designs for the shelter's paraphernalia each year. She was the professional here. Yet she could not have been more accommodating to the changes in design we requested and our dreadful timelines.

At the end of the two weeks, my fervent prayers were answered! We received over 200 orders - way beyond our initial estimate of 60. Imagine our delight! This spike in volume also gave us greater bargaining strength with the vendors to bring down the cost incurred, economies of scale and all.

When the items were finally delivered to me, I was faced with the logistical obstacle of packing everything into bundles. Time was short. Together with three fellow volunteers, we spent a couple of our week nights after work as ad-hoc factory workers, labelling, sorting and packing. We were a production line. All we were short of were uniforms, canteen food and a salary.

When the time came for distribution of the packs, I relied on a small group of volunteer friends whom I unabashedly despatched to designated points across our island for meet ups with the buyers. I also had help with postage of the packs offered to me ever so readily.

As you can see, at almost every turn in this journey, I was not alone.

And then there was the matter of our Paw Pack customers. Let's face it. No matter how hard I try to persuade otherwise, nobody really needs an extra tote bag, a t-shirt and a beverage voucher. These aren't necessities. It was apparent that the people who bought the packs cared more about the proceeds of sale going towards the dogs and less about the items that actually made up the packs.

From our interaction with the buyers, it became clear to us that most of them had a certain profile. They were easy going and flexible with the collection arrangements. One of them met me at my office because she knocked off early. Some changed their lunch plans for the meet ups at the train stations. Others collated orders with their friends and had to lug a number of packs back on their own. Most of them understood that our delivery personnel were all doing it on an entirely voluntary basis.

We ended up raising more than $10,000 for the shelter from this venture. As I whooped with joy, my fellow volunteers did too.

Volunteering at the shelter has always been all about dogs. But for me, it is too, as much about people. Because as a small shelter, our people is our greatest resource. Their initiative, talent, resourcefulness, passion and kindness are what have kept - and what I reckon will keep the shelter going.

The art of loving a dog begins with a person

Recently, the Facebook administrators of the Gentle Paws page decided to get some of the volunteers to write about their experiences at the shelter. Some of the entries were beautiful simply from how heartfelt they were.

For shelter dogs, it takes a persistent human being to fork out her weekends each week, every month for years to grow a relationship of trust, respect and love. We have had the good fortune to witness the blossoming of such relationships between human and canine time and again here at the shelter - just read those Facebook posts.

The dogs know to count on these familiar volunteers for walks and affection - even outings. They know that when these humans say bye at the end of one week, they will be back soon enough. This injects in the dogs' lives an element of predictability and hence, stability. They are assured - a rare sentiment for a shelter dog.

We often think that feeding the dogs something more or something better is to dote on them. But once their basic physical needs are met, I truly believe that what they need instead is a type of mental well-being that only the volunteers can give.

Shelter dogs need people to slow down and take time to appreciate them for them - their quirks and disposition, their likes and dislikes. Then only will they no longer be just one of the many faceless shelter dogs behind the fence. They become something quite special indeed.

Closing submissions

And so to wrap it all up - shelter work for the past six to seven years has not made me grow disdainful of the human race. Instead it taught me that when we condemn, it should not apply to the collective. Because both the eyes and the heart tell me that the essence of shelter work lies in the very kindness of humankind that is constantly being denigrated.

I love dogs but hey, I love the people that come along too. All of them, past and present, operational or not, helped create the Gentle Paws of today. Every bit of contribution - and everyone, counts.

This, in a long-winded fashion, is my defence of people.

I rest my case.

The writer's opinion is hers alone and should not be construed as representative of the shelter.


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