Last night was my first session as a volunteer at the Danbury Animal Welfare Society (DAWS). I had attended an orientation a few weeks back and that's when I saw the facility for the first time, learned about the standard operating procedures and policies, and got to meet some of the cats I'll be working with. Now I'm not a person that enjoys change or meeting new people, but other than my immediate family I don't think many people are aware because I try very hard to hide my discomfort. Who knows, I could be wrong so feel free to call me out in the comments!
So far, this entire experience is quite out of my normal comfort zone, but I'm forcing myself to do this for several reasons. I learned about DAWS after attending their Puppy Love Ball, a fund-raiser they held in February, in support of a friend of mine who was honored as their Person of the Year. They premiered this mission video at the event and it had me hooked. To learn that DAWS is a shelter that doesn't euthanize animals for non-medical reasons was a real inspiration to me. I didn't even know this idea of a 'no-kill' shelter even existed. Another reason, I have wanted to volunteer somewhere simply to give back to a community. I'm not sure where my misunderstanding came from, but I've always imagined volunteering to be an unpleasant activity, like cleaning or manual labor. So when I found out that I could volunteer to be a 'cat socializer', it sounded like a perfect fit. Since my wife is very allergic to animal hair and dander, this would also be my chance to interact with cats on a regular basis without owning one.
This next statement may come off as brutally honest, another reason I was outside my comfort zone is the facility. Inside, its a clean, spacious and wonderful facility for the animals, but when I first arrived its exterior isn't exactly what I had expected especially since my introduction to DAWS was the grandeur of the Ball held at the Ethan Allen. The building looks like a large residential home and could easily be overlooked as a place of business. After visiting the DAWS location in Bethel I understood the importance of the sign and landscaping that my friend Paul created. Hearing about their goal to fundraise for a brand-new state-of-the-art facility by 2019, it made me even more impressed and connected with DAWS. I'd love to be a small part of them reaching that goal.
I arrived last night a few minutes early, uncertain what to do. Seeing others waiting outside for the door to open, I introduced myself and found out they were waiting to become adopters. I was starting to get a little nervous since none were other volunteers. Was I late? Was there a different entrance? Did I not read an email fully? After a few minutes I discovered I hadn't made a mistake when other volunteers arrived.
After a few minutes we were let in and I introduced myself and was introduce to the other cat program volunteers that were there. Unfortunately I'm joining the volunteer program at a time when everyone needs to be more hands-off with the cats because of a skin infection that is making the rounds in the shelter. They have done an amazing job handling the situation. I hope in a few weeks the issue will behind DAWS.
From what I gathered from the my first session, a two-hour evening consists of feeding the cats, playing with them, cleaning litter boxes and then finishing the night by getting everyone back in their cages. This is the kind of volunteering I can handle!
The thing I really took away from last night though was my experience with a cat named Daphne. She's a beautiful black & white cat and very reminiscent of the family cat I grew up with for 14 years named Purrina. She has some trouble with her hind legs, and she seems a bit of a special-needs case because of it. On her cage is a sign that reads "Not for Adoption" and those three words seemed to say so much about DAWS. Here is a cat that in many cases would be euthanized because no one goes to a shelter looking for a special-needs pet. But instead DAWS, with their no-kill policy, chose to give this cat a chance to be adopted and she's so close to going home.
Daphne cemented why I want to give two hours of my week to DAWS, in a time when I feel like I don't have 5 extra minutes to spare. If you are located in the greater Bethel/Danbury area, I encourage you to donate your time or donate your money.