Lost and Lonely

Lost and Lonely

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Lost and Lonely

I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.

~Lily Tomlin

The first day I transferred to a new college was heartbreaking. Why did I leave my friends? Why did I choose a school that was farther from my family? I didn’t know anyone on campus and I didn’t know how to find the buildings for my classes. The world had just celebrated another New Year’s holiday and I was sitting alone in a dorm room, surrounded by painted white brick walls and with an unknown roommate. What had I done?

I wandered around campus, consulting my flimsy paper class schedule and the buildings that I passed. I bumped into shoulders and backpacks. Bikes whizzed by me, clipping my heels as my eyes welled up with tears. I was late to chemistry class twice. I felt very lost and alone.

As a runner on the school’s cross country and track teams, I looked forward to practice each afternoon. It was a chance to be part of a group, to escape the loneliness. It was a chance to be me. The pounding of my footsteps on the city sidewalks gave me a chance to discover myself. I began to think that feeling lost and alone might sometimes be a good thing. If we never felt lost then why would we search for the deeper meaning of life?

When an injury kept me from practice, I found myself with numbing amounts of free time. I had nothing to do but sit in my small dorm room. I began to swim laps in the campus pool, but I still felt trapped. I needed something more.

Having grown up with pets in our family home that I had rescued, I missed having a pet around. When I found the address for the local animal shelter in the phone book, I invited a running teammate to visit the shelter with me.

“Can you believe this place?” Amy asked in awe on our first day. The dark building looked like something from a horror movie, surrounded by a barbed wire fence. A small sign covered in dust hung sideways on the latch of the tall gate.

“It says they’re open right now.” I shrugged, thinking we must have the wrong place. The building had only one small window and not a shred of green grass.

A few minutes later a man emerged from the dark building wearing a red flannel shirt and blue jean overalls. “What do ya need?”

“We were hoping to volunteer, to spend time with the animals… .” I stuttered, wanting to run back to the car and drive away quickly.

“Come on in,” he muttered as he shuffled towards the door, cigarette pressed tightly between his lips.

Our first day of volunteering led us to the cat room. The cat room was a small 4x10 area with wire crates stacked one on top of the other, filling the entire room from floor to ceiling. Most of the food and water bowls were empty, some filled with dust, which told me the cats must have been hungry. Many of the cats were ill, and all were starved for attention. They were clearly lonely and they were scared. I could relate and they instantly won my heart. Cats of every age, size and color lined the walls. Their paws reached forward through the rusty steel bars of the cages, begging for help, pleading for attention. They meowed with force, letting us know that they needed help. Amy and I stayed at the shelter until they closed that day.

We went back to the animal shelter every Sunday. We walked the dogs, we provided food and water to every cage, we let cats out of their cages one by one to stretch their legs and feel the sunshine that poured through the tiny window in the next room. We brought pet treats and we made toys. The following year we organized a volunteer day where more than fifty track team members came to walk the dogs and spend time with the lonely pets. Before I knew it, I wasn’t lonely anymore; I wasn’t sitting quietly in a silent dorm room. I was in the city, I was giving back to lives that were in need and I was living life. I was learning not only about a great need of our society, but a great need in myself — the need to give back to those who can use a helping hand.

The animal shelter was changing my life as much as we were changing the lives we intended to help. Adoptions were increasing, the quality of care had risen by leaps and bounds, the shelter euthanasia rate was dropping and more people were signing up to volunteer. I was ecstatic! I was in awe that one person could really make a difference. I began to learn that we each have the power within us to make miracles happen. It takes three elements: effort, persistence and a positive attitude. With those three qualities, I learned that anyone could make a difference.

A few short years later, Amy Beatty and I co-founded Advocates 4 Animals, Inc., a non-profit animal welfare organization helping to save the lives of death row shelter pets in need. I had turned my loneliness and fear into positive action and change. I had learned to live outside the confines of the comfortable walls that I once called home. And most of all, I had learned to use what I had already possessed to create something that so desperately needed to exist. Through my desire to discover the world, I created a no-kill animal rescue, rehabilitation and adoption group that continues to help thousands of homeless animals annually. Feeling lost and lonely sure led to some amazing miracles for thousands of lost and lonely pets.

~Stacey Ritz

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