This week, I noticed more orange kittens than usual at the SPCA.  Or maybe I am just more aware of the color as a result of seeing so much orange at the U.Va. football and basketball games these past few days.  Regardless, orange kittens of all stripes and sizes filled a good number of cages in the kitten hallway on this particular Sunday.  So, I decided today would be Orange Kitten Day.

In a sea of orange, one orange kitten at the end of the hallway stood out among all of the others.  Maybe it was his beckoning meows.  Or his speckled stripes and white boots.  But, quite honestly, I think it may have been the name on his information sheet: Jack-O-Lantern.

the orange cat

…Jack-O-Lantern?  Don’t get me wrong, I see the connection.  Plump orange kitten.  Probably been there since Halloween two weeks ago.  It certainly caught my attention.  But it is now November, halfway to December, and this cute little kitten is still being called “Jack-O-Lantern.”  Shouldn’t kittens with holiday-specific names be eligible for name changes upon the passing of that holiday?

And so, on Orange Kitten Day, I decided to shorten “Jack-O-Lantern” to “Jack,” which soon changed yet again into “Wild Jack” after our initial meeting.

At first, Jack had just wanted to cuddle.  I took him out of his cage and he immediately crawled up over my shoulder and began purring into my ear.  His purring grew louder as I rubbed behind his orange ears and under his striped belly.  He seemed as if he’d be content in my arms for hours.  That is, until he saw all of the toys in the kitten socialization room.

Scratching post and toys on strings in sight, Jack squirmed to get out of my arms and begin playing.  He tore around the scratching post and chased toys this way and that, quickly earning his new name:  Wild Jack.  But one thing hadn’t changed about Wild Jack: he still loved ear and belly rubs.  So, of course, I gladly gave Jack-O-Lantern/Jack/Wild Jack ear and belly rubs galore in honor of Orange Kitten Day that afternoon.  Then, I visited all of the other kittens to wish them a happy Orange Kitten Day as well.

DSCN4946

It is days like this one that make me look back on my past few years of volunteering at the SPCA and smile.  I’ve had the opportunity to socialize so many different animals, of all ages, colors, unknown backgrounds, funny assigned names, and personalities.  I’ve picked up kittens that have been terrified of human contact in the first minute, loving the attention a moment later, and acting as if they’ve known me forever once they’ve set paw in the visitation room.  All of which has prepared these animals to be someone’s pet for the long haul one day soon.  While I’d take all of them home if I could, I’ve truly enjoyed the couple of hours each week that I’ve gotten to spend improving their lives, as they’ve improved mine.

Happy Orange Kitten Day to all!

In many of my blog entries I have compared dogs to humans. Realistically, I know that dogs are not humans (if they were, our world would probably be a much nicer place). But just because dogs are not humans does not mean they do not love their families. I learned this the hard way today at the SPCA.

During my volunteer shift I had the privilege of walking one of my favorite puppies, Thatcher. Thatcher has been at the SPCA since he was a newborn puppy and is a beautiful cross between an English foxhound and blue tick foxhound, two of my favorite breeds.

When Thatcher was first brought to the SPCA he came with two adorable siblings. Unfortunately for Thatcher, his more outgoing siblings were adopted almost immediately, leaving the already shy Thatcher all alone in his kennel.

While walking Thatcher today he did not seem to have the same energy I remember when he was with his siblings. All he wanted to do was lay down, be petted, and eat treats. Whenever a dog would walk by or bark he would get excited for about a second and then just lay back down.

Thatcher may only be a dog, a puppy at that, but I am quite certain he missed his family. I don’t care whether it’s a human, a dog, a cat, an elephant, or really any animal for that matter, when they are separated from those that they have spent their entire life with they are going to be sad.

A lot of people say “you only get one family” and while this is true to an extent, I like to think family is what you make it. We all have a basic need to surround ourselves with people or creatures that love us and dogs are no different. It is my sincere belief that this saying does not apply to Thatcher. I think his second family is waiting just around the corner.

Losing a loved one can be one of the hardest experiences any person ever faces. And any pet lover knows that the loss of one’s dog is no different. These past couple of weeks I had the misfortune of losing one of my own dogs, Rev, and a dog I’ve been sitting on a regular basis for the past 4 years, Wiley.

Though my schedule is busier than ever, I knew I had to make an extra effort at the SPCA this week. So I volunteered to take dogs for the day to Trick or Treating on the Lawn with my good friend Taylor Harbin. In memory of Rev, we made sure to take two hound dogs out for the day.

People often laugh at me when I say dogs are healthy for you, but I sincerely believe this is true. I enjoyed seeing people’s faces light up when they saw the dogs; some people rushed over from yards away to play with the two hound dogs, and it made me feel a lot better myself.

Minnie and Piper, the two dogs I walked, were not Rev and nothing would have made me feel better than to hold him one more time. But walking these two dogs made me realize what an impact Rev had on my own life and possibly on theirs.

If it weren’t for him, I may never have started volunteering at the SPCA, I probably would not love hound dogs nearly as much, and Minnie and Piper might not have gotten walked that day. Who knows, maybe one of their future owners was there at Trick or Treating on the Lawn.

I’m not the type to argue about religion, but anyone who says dogs don’t go to heaven would have some convincing to do. For me, a dog can have just as big of an impact and create just as much love in one’s life as a human being can. I thank Rev and Wiley every day for teaching me that lesson.

This past Sunday’s stroll down the hallway of kitten cages led me to Ethel, an adorable little black kitten with white paws, white whiskers, and a white nose. One of her siblings was sleeping in the kitty hammock and the other was being socialized in the nearby visitation playroom, leaving Ethel wide-eyed on the cage floor. She looked like she could use a vacation from the confines of her pink cage.

So I whisked her away to a nearby bench, offering my lap as a playground. She rolled around in my lap with her happy motor roaring for the next twenty minutes, chasing her tail, attacking my name tag, and kicking at “the claw” (that is, my hand) that was coming after her fuzzy belly. All the while, passersby couldn’t help but stop and watch, commenting on how cute she was or just making the standard “Aww!” noise. Ethel was quite the crowd pleaser.

But even kittens know that play comes with work. And Ethel spent the next five minutes bathing her fur, which was standing up all over the place as a result of her flips and kicks. Sitting in the crease of my legs, Ethel pulled each of her back legs, one at a time, up between her front paws and began licking. It was quite an art. I’d like to call it “Downward-Facing Cat.” With this move, Ethel won the hearts of even more passersby.

Yet, her final act—the irresistible cat nap in a lap—may have triggered the loudest buzzer on the “Aw-O-Meter.” Curled up with her head and one little white paw resting on my arm, Ethel had positioned herself facing the passersby. A prime position, indeed. “Her name is Ethel! Isn’t she cute?!” I chimed as passersby stopped and smiled, nodding. There Ethel napped in my lap for the next half an hour, perhaps dreaming of a permanent lap to nap in one day. Little did she know, her cat nap act in front of all of those passersby searching for the perfect pet may have put her well on her way to a dream come true.

Before I left the SPCA that day, I bid farewell to little Ethel, having enjoyed her cat nap in my lap yet hoping she would be napping in a new owner’s lap come next week.

I was happy to finally return to the SPCA today for my first day of volunteering since last semester.  With midterms just around the corner, a good ole session of pet therapy is just what I needed.  And there are always pets in need of human therapy at the SPCA!

My initial stroll down the hallway of kitten cages quickly brought me back to a familiar place:  cages upon cages, full of adorable kittens beckoning for your attention with their paws and squeaky voices.  Within seconds, one particular kitty chorus had caught my attention.  There were three of them, all boys.  One black and two tiger striped.  According to their colorful information sheets, their names were Mr. Coffee, Glover, and Mittens.  Mr. Coffee was the black one, said to be named for his energetic personality (which was later confirmed).  Glover and Mittens were the little tigers, with no such name explanations.  An unusual little tiger paw waving out between the bars of the cage, however, soon told the story.  This paw had seven toes, compared to the typical five found on a feline’s front foot.  And it was Glover’s.  Glover’s glove, if you will.

Mr. Coffee had gloves on, too!  As for Mittens, his name is still a mystery to me, as he had the usual five toes…

Anyway, I began to chat with another interested volunteer, who called them “polydactyl cats.”  While I had heard of this term before (a good English student knows some of the oddest things about authors, including Hemingway’s obsession with such cats), I had never actually seen one.  Now, I had two polydactyl cats right in front of me!  Overtaken by their sweet faces, soft cries, and fascinating feet, the other volunteer and I immediately gathered up all three of them and took them into the nearby visitation playroom.  For the next hour, we watched them do what boys do—tear around like maniacs, wrestle, make pieces of carpet fly off of the scratching post, and chase a toy on a string that we dangled in the air around them.  At the same time, Mr. Coffee, Mittens, and especially Glover were just as eager to take breaks to curl up in our laps, twenty-two toes and all, and enjoy our company as we enjoyed theirs.

It felt good to be back at the Charlottesville SPCA after summer, and I wanted to make sure to start off well by walking a good dog (not that they’re not all amazing!). Well, it wasn’t hard to make up my mind because as soon as I walked into the first room of dogs, I spotted a terrier mix that looked just like my grandpa’s old dog Benji. I knew I had to walk him.

The terrier dog, Dutch, was incredibly sweet! But, when I opened his kennel to put him on the leash, I noticed something a little offsetting about him—he was missing one of his ears.

Dutch

I read Dutch’s chart just to make sure he was in okay shape to be walked; apparently, he had lost the ear quite a while ago, but was physically unaffected by it now. So, I leashed Dutch up and took him out to play.

Dutch was friendly as could be and gave kisses just like my old dog, Benji. But there was a big difference between the two: Dutch didn’t like to play. As much as I tried, Dutch just did not want to run around and play. I brought him to the fenced off park, but all he wanted was to lay around and be petted, he wouldn’t even move for a treat.

It was still fun walking Dutch, but his calm demeanor made me realize something: the way you treat a dog can have a huge impact on it. Dutch and Benji were almost the exact same breed of dog, both loved giving kisses, and were sweet as could be. But Benji got to live with a loving and kind master whereas Dutch did not; at least that’s what I imagined from seeing his ear.

It is experiences like these that let me know that my time at the SPCA is worthwhile. The SPCA is giving a second chance to dogs who have been ignored, abused, or just don’t have a home. Working there gives me hope that one day dogs like Dutch will be just as happy and playful as my dog Benji once was.

Today at pet pals I played with the coolest three dogs ever, excluding my own of course. These dogs were all in one cage together, which almost never happens unless three dogs are really friendly and need more than one buddy.

What was strange about my time with these dogs was I didn’t know any of their names. The reason I was able to play with these dogs was because one of my good friends Taylor Harbin, an experienced dog walker, had asked me to play with a group of dogs who were being kept in the back room. They were going to be back there until they lost a little bit of weight and could be walked by regular volunteers.

However, she had never told me what their names were. I never realized how hard it is to play with a bunch of dogs when you don’t know their names, so I made some up.

So for the next hour I played and exercised with “Pistachio”, “Shocko”, and “Clinton”. It was seriously some of the most fun I’ve ever had volunteering at the SPCA.

Clinton the Dog

Eventually my friend Taylor returned and told me the names of the dogs. But when I called them by their real names, they didn’t respond at all. It made me realize that many of the dogs at the SPCA are given names when they get there, in many cases the names they have mean almost nothing to most of these dogs. Nonetheless by the end of our time playing together I felt like these three dogs and I had legitimately bonded. If I didn’t know my parents would kill me for bringing home three more dogs, I would have adopted them then and there.

In one of my previous entries I said I always write down the names of the dogs I walk. That day, I realized it should be less about the long list of dogs I’ve walked and more about the dogs themselves that I’m helping and the extraordinary feeling I get from doing it.

Your Pet Pal,

Dan

Today I assisted a man at the SPCA, who was looking for a dog to adopt and was with his young daughter. When he asked for a recommendation on which dogs I thought would be a good family dog, I pointed out a few of the hound dogs I had walked in the past.

Since I was born, my family has owned four hound dogs and every one of them has been a friendly and loving member of our family, but the man heard this and began laughing, saying to his daughter “You hear that honey.” A dog was barking. “If we adopt a hound that is all we’ll be hearing for the rest of our lives. All hounds do is bark!”

Afterward I decided that I would only walk hounds for the rest of my volunteer shift.

The highlight of that time, was when I walked Goofy, a black and white hound with ears so long he almost trips on them. While walking him, Goofy did not bark a single time. What’s more, he was one of the most well behaved dogs I’ve walked, and he loved just sitting in the park getting petted and eating treats. At the end of the walk he even gave me a friendly lick to show his appreciation.

Goofy the hound

So though it is undeniable that hounds might bark, I think it’s important to remember, so does every other dog! Just like human beings, every dog is different and no dog is perfect. I think any person who plans on adopting a dog needs to really put in the effort to find a dog that will be a life-long friend, and ignore his or her own preconceptions.

Your Pet Pal, Dan

Mirabella the cat

At five o’clock last Thursday afternoon, I returned from my last class of the week before Spring Break. Freedom, you might think? Not quite. With four mid-term papers down and one to go, I cringed at the thought of that last paper standing between me and a much-needed break. As usual, procrastination began to kick in. I ate ice cream. I cleaned. I stared blankly at my computer screen. But I still wasn’t mentally prepared to get to work. I knew that I desperately needed to get out of my apartment, even if for only an hour.

And an hour is what I had, before the SPCA closed for the evening, that is. Oh yes, the SPCA. The perfect escape. A place where your worries melt away at the purr of a cat or the wagging tail of a dog.

So, I fought the five o’clock traffic and finally arrived at the SPCA with about half an hour of pet therapy ahead of me. I made my rounds, saying “Hello” to all of the cats and kittens and petting the occasional furry feline head pressed up against the cage bars. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Alice (the cat from my first blog) had been adopted since the last time I was there. Feeling happy for Alice, I went in search of a new pet pal to socialize and prepare for a future home.

It didn’t take long for me to make a new feline friend. Her name was Mirabella. From inside her pink cage on the kitten hall, her little “Meow” caught my ear at about the same time her big bright eyes caught mine.

I stooped down to open the cage door and greet her. She immediately wiggled onto her back, welcoming my attention. But I had to do some persuading to get her out of the cage at first. It may have had something to do with the too-close-for-comfort barking of nearby dogs. Or maybe she just hadn’t had the best of luck with humans in the past. It’s often hard to tell. But I was determined to show her that I was there for her. I was her pal. And once she decided it was safe to come out of the cage and into my arms, it didn’t take her long to become my pal. In fact, Mirabella’s motor was up and running in a matter of minutes. She continued to purr as she rolled around in my arms, occasionally looking up at me and stretching a little black paw up toward my face. And it was in one of these moments that I realized that I had the ability to melt away Mirabella’s worries just as she had mine.

Hero the Dog

Hero the Dog

It’s a pig. It’s a groundhog. No it’s Hero, the mud wrastlin’ dog.

This week I had the mixed fortune of walking a small brown and black beagle named Hero. Like any puppy, Hero was full of endless energy. So, I decided that I should take him to the gated dog park so he didn’t choke himself with the leash.

As soon as I let him into the park he literally flew into the air, hopped half the agility course in the park and then proceeded to roll around in the mud. I couldn’t help but laugh, he was probably one of the most hilarious and fun dogs I had ever walked.

But then Hero decided that he wanted me to play with him… I wasn’t exactly enthused. In fact, at first I was pretty upset. I was covered with mud from head to toe. But Hero was not going to let me get away without playing with him, and after a while, I gave in.

After playing with Hero in the mud for about 30 minutes I realized it was probably time to go inside and walk some of the other dogs. Needless to say the SPCA staff was not thrilled with the mud-covered dog I brought back. But I learned later this week that, despite his messiness, Hero was adopted. Though I am obviously thrilled for him, I will miss him when I visit the SPCA this week.

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