Tucked away behind numerous trucking companies in Hickory, North Carolina, is my home away from home, my happy place. When my faith in humanity needs to be restored, there really is nothing like coming to this animal shelter. Every year many adoptable animals are euthanized because help doesn't arrive in time. The Catawba County Humane Society is trying to put an end to this, but they can't do it without volunteers. This is where I come in. One of my jobs is to help with the cats. I play with them, brush them, and clean their living areas – anything to socialize them and make them more adoptable. Keeping the animals happy and healthy is the number-one concern. No one wants a cat that is afraid of people. If a cat is around people every day it will become more comfortable around humans. My second responsibility is to work with dogs, which is more strenuous. Since they don't use a litter box in which to do their business, cleanup is grosser. On a good day there are enough volunteers to walk the them, keeping messes to a minimum. We are also given the task of exercising and socializing the dogs. Inside, they don't have much room to run around, so when they see me walking toward them with a leash they get pretty excited. I always try to tire a dog out. I make sure it does its business (which I clean up), then take it for a nice jog. The shelter has two outdoor pens where we can let the dogs off leash and play with them. There you really get to know the animals. Each has a different personality, and they make you want to take them home with you. For me, this makes it even sweeter when I see them get adopted into a loving home. Everyone loves to play with the animals, but there's lots of work too. There is food to measure, laundry to do, and kennels to clean. The mess never ends. These tasks aren't glamorous, but they are rewarding in their own way. I know walking dogs and petting cats may not seem like a big deal, but through my volunteer work I have helped many animals become more adoptable and closer to finding their perfect family. I have met people who share my love of animals and happily give their time to help these strays. Sometimes it is heartbreaking, sometimes it is back-breaking, but I wouldn't trade my time at the shelter for the world. It's something I love doing, and now that I've started I don't want to stop. I encourage any animal lover to volunteer at a shelter. It will make you feel amazing.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the October 2014 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.