To The Volunteers
Gosh, it's quiet in here.
I'm writing this on the big blue couch we used to keep in the reception room, and before that, in the calming room, the couch that Lassie claimed as her own, as did Lucky, and Mike, and Beko, and Fredy and Kimo and so many other dogs (and people).
I've lugged the couch downstairs to what used to be the red room, where it's sitting waiting for someone to take it away. In the meantime, it's a nice spot to sit and take a break from cleaning out the last remnants of our incredible, improbable, indescribable mission from this bankrupt helicopter facility we all called home, and to reflect on what a journey it's been.
The cattery is torn down and cleaned out. The construction fencing is gone from the dog house, and the temporary flooring torn up. Most of what remained after the last of the dogs and cats left has found new homes, and new purposes, elsewhere. Walking through these halls now, these empty rooms, it's hard to believe they ever housed animals. It almost doesn't look like the same place, now that the kennels are gone.
But the memories remain. Memories of the dogs and cats we all fell in love with here, and memories of the wonderful people who made this shelter run. It'll take a lot more than a mop and some power tools to clear the memories out of these walls. And even when the lease here expires, and the last traces of our shelter have vanished, I'll carry those memories with me for the rest of my life.
Memories of the dogs and cats, definitely. Memories of the smells, unfortunately yes.
Memories of the people, of all of you fantastic, dedicated, generous, compassionate, loving, incredible people? To my dying day.
I love you all. I'm supposed to be a writer, and I can't for the life of me find the words to properly express my gratitude to you. You amazed and inspired me every day with your selflessness. With your good humour and your capacity for love.
(You amazed me with your tolerance for poop, too. And your willingness to wade into Marty's kennel three, four, five, six times a shift to clean up his messes, to love him and care for him and set him up comfortably again, even though we all knew he was going to mess again the minute we turned our backs.)
You gave so much of yourselves, all of you, when there was literally nothing promised to you in return. You came back day after day, early mornings and late nights, in the rain and the snow and the bitter cold wind.
You're the very best kind of people, and I'm so grateful to have spent these months with you.
I wasn't prepared for your kindness. Early on in the mission, I started to keep a list of the volunteers who'd gone the extra mile and truly caught my eye, who'd done the remarkable far above what anyone could have asked. It was a noble idea, but misguided; very quickly, that list grew so long that I may as well have just copied down the attendance lists every day.
Suffice it to say, if you're reading this, you're on the list. If you showed up at the shelter and walked a dog or cleaned a litter box, mopped a floor or fed a room full of hungry pups, if you handled the front desk or moved kennels or bought supplies or brought in dinner or snacks for the staff (thank you!!!) you're on the list. If you contributed even an hour of your life to enriching the lives of these amazing dogs and cats, you're deserving of all of the gratitude I can muster, on behalf of the animals, the shelter staff, and from me personally, above all.
The last month has been incredibly difficult for many of us at the shelter, and I'm no exception. There were more than a few moments when I found myself questioning my worth. But you all worked so hard to lift me up out of those moments of darkness. You reminded me that we were, all of us, doing something that mattered, no matter what storms raged outside the shelter walls. You saved my life as sure as you saved those 286 dogs and cats, and that's not an exaggeration.
I joined this mission because I love rescuing animals. But typically, our missions last a couple of days, with a handful of animals, another volunteer or two alongside us, maybe. Rescuing is by-and-large kind of solitary, or at the very least, insular. I'd never managed a team of hundreds of volunteers before. And I'll admit that I found the people management side of things kind of scary.
But holy cow, did I love working with all of you.
I went to bed every night absolutely dead tired and just as absolutely thrilled beyond belief that I got to do what I was doing. And when I woke up in the morning and found my way down to reception, I'd see your names on the attendance list for the day and know in my heart that the animals were in good hands. That no matter what happened, we'd get through it together, with good humour and compassion and kindness.
I stopped keeping that list of names. I probably wrote down a hundred before I figured out it was pointless. Anyway, if I tried to single people out, I'd do injustice to everyone else, who came just as faithfully and worked just as hard. I'd rather think of us as a team--the cleaners, the floaters, the walkers, the feeders, the admin folks working doggy dispatch, the portables gang, and the cattery squad. The folks who hitchhiked to the shelter or rode transit for hours, or who showed up in luxury cars and still rolled up their sleeves and pitched in and scooped poop with everyone else, united by the common goal of giving 286 animals (and in some cases, their owners) better lives.
No matter how you arrived at the shelter, or what you did once you got here, I consider myself truly lucky to have worked alongside you. To have laughed with you, cried with you, walked dogs in the rain with you.
It wasn't always easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. But we got it done anyway. We made a difference. YOU made a difference--to the dogs and cats you cared for, to the mission and the people behind it, and to me.
It was a privilege to work with you all, and I'll consider it one of the greatest gifts of my life that I got to take this journey alongside you.
"Thank you" hardly seems sufficient, but thank you anyway.
Thank you so damn much.