Silently telling myself to stop replaying that saying in my mind, I drew a breath, walked through the door, and announced to the young lady at the shelter’s front desk, “I’m here to help!” The woman greeted me and instructed me to head to the back of the shelter as there was a bunch of people back there who could use assistance. I did as I was told and quickly realized that the woman’s definition of “a bunch of people” was three individuals.
Approaching the bunch, I asked one of its members, “How can I help?” In response, the young lady I’d addressed immediately led me to a small kitchen where she hurriedly prepared a mixture of Beneful, canned Pedigree, and Gravy Train. Fighting my urge to gag at the picture and smell of the combined dog foods, I began stuffing various Kongs with the mixture as I’d been told to do. As I filled what had to have been the fifteenth or sixteenth Kong, I began to tell my companion a little bit about myself in an effort to build a little camaraderie. Even though I know I’m not the world’s most interesting woman (which I guess is why I don’t do beer commercials), I was surprised when the woman said nothing in response to my statements.
I looked up from my mess, I mean work, and realized I was all alone in the tiny kitchen…and I was talking to myself and an audience of partially stuffed rubber dog toys. Having finally stuffed the last Kong, I put all of them in the freezer and envisioned some homeless dogs enjoying them later that day. As I cleaned the kitchen, I wondered if the dogs would approach their snacks as popsicles or toys and if they’d be surprised by what was inside of them.
Having put the kitchen back in order, I went to find someone who could tell me what I should do next. As I searched, I heard an alarm. Since the sprinklers didn’t come on and no one appeared to be sprinting out of the shelter’s emergency exits, I guessed the alarm wasn’t anything I needed to be too concerned with. I was 90% sure everything was okay. My confidence dropped to about 70% when I failed to find someone in the next minute and the alarm continued to sound a warning about something or other.
Finding none of the bunch in the back of the shelter, I made my way back to the front desk. The woman who’d originally welcomed me earlier in the day suggested that I could check on the laundry. And thus began my search for the shelter’s washing machine and dryer.
Winding my way through the shelter’s labyrinth of hallways and doors, I found two washing machines in different locations. And I identified the location of the alarm. The alarm was in the form of a nine week-old kitten who was not happy about being in a kennel even though it was quite spacious. I couldn’t resist the temptation to read the kitty’s identification card and was soon surprised to learn that Ghost, named for his rather eerie white color, had been displaced from his home because he refused to get along with another cat.
I remember thinking, “Are you kidding me? Ghost is just a baby. He’s barely as big as my hand!” I felt really bad that Ghost’s previous owners hadn’t given him more of a chance in their home and tried to brighten the little guy’s day by putting a toy in his kennel. Not even my kind gesture silenced Ghost’s meows.
Remembering my task, laundry, I left Ghost to sounding his perennial alarm and went back to change out loads of clothes and towels. While new loads were laundered, I folded what had already been washed and straightened out the shelter’s linen and food storage area. With the laundry caught up, I again returned to the front desk for another assignment. Noticing that I was a bit disappointed to learn that everything in the shelter was as caught up as the laundry, the young lady mentioned that a dog or two still needed to be walked and asked if I was interested. I enthusiastically told her, “I would love to walk a dog! Any dog. Big or small. It doesn’t matter.”
When she heard my answer, her eyes lit up with laughter which she tried to hide by turning away from me. When she turned back to face me, only a sheepish smile betrayed her amusement…only a sheepish smile made me realize I might have made a mistake…only THAT sheepish smile made me realize I was about to walk a big dog, perhaps one even bigger than myself.
As I contemplated heading out to purchase a saddle, the woman said, “I’ll go get Buster then.” “Buster?” I wondered. “Did he get his name because he busts people? What have I done!?!”
When the woman returned from the back with Buster in tow, it didn’t take me long to see he was a bit energetic and to notice Buster’s powerful strength as he demonstrated both traits while dragging me out the shelter’s door. Buster pulled me outside so quickly and determinedly that I didn’t even have time to ask if he knew any commands or make sure my life insurance policies were current.
I soon realized it didn’t matter if he knew commands or not. Buster’s sole goal was to run and get away from me. I can’t prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the shelter’s staff and volunteers were huddled in a corner laughing while Buster ran circles around me, grabbed his leash, and finally tackled me to the ground.
I didn’t even bother dusting myself off as I picked myself off of the ground since I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was knocked on my rump again. I wanted to cry…and cry for help, but realized neither would do any good. No one would be able to hear me over Ghost’s “alarm,” much less help me. So I watched Buster run from side to side while silently praying he would stop and be still long enough for me to catch my breath.
In between a Hail Mary and an Our Father, I thought, “What in the world would I do if he starts to drag me all over town or gets loose? What would I do then? I should never, ever have said that I could handle a big dog!” In between other prayers, I thought, “I might never get him back inside the shelter! Oh, my word! I might never make it back inside myself!”
Somehow (I personally think it was by the grace of God), Buster and I did eventually make it back to the shelter. When Buster pulled me indoors, I saw that woman…and that same sheepish grin. The lady asked, “How did it go?” I don’t know why she bothered to ask when the answer was written all over my face. I looked and felt like I’d just run the Boston Marathon without having trained first, after all.
I responded, “He’s crazy!” In turn the woman observed, “Yes, he’s a little hyper.” I thought, “A LITTLE hyper? That’s like saying Mt. Everest is a little hill…that’s like saying a giant squid would make a single, little plate of calamari…that’s like saying the upcoming presidential election is a little political contest! But…okay, whatever YOU say. He’s a little hyper.”
As the woman led Buster back to his kennel, I realized I hadn’t even spoken to the dog during our lengthy time together. Maybe it was because my time with him was consumed with prayers for my, I mean our survival. Maybe it was because my breath had been knocked out of me a time or two. Maybe it was because I didn’t have anything to say to the barely controllable creature and he had too much energy to listen. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter, does it?
I considered asking the woman if there was anything else I could do before I left for the day, but then remembered she’d said multiple dogs needed to be walked. Fearing Buster’s equally energetic brother and/or sister might be in the back, I collected my things, turned on my bruised heel, and left, thus ending my first day of volunteering at the shelter. I was beat…by Buster.