From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Second Chance

As she drove to the Humane Society, Catherine wondered, What in the world am I doing? It was the middle of a busy morning, of a busy day, of a busy month, of her busy life. With grueling, eighteen-hour workdays, she barely found time to eat lunch. Here she was, a corporate president, driving away from her office at 10:00 A.M. to walk dogs as a kennel volunteer.

No one was surprised when the company she started exploded with success. What did surprise Catherine was that the more “successful” she became on the outside, the more her soul seemed to be shrinking.

She drove faster toward the kennel for fear that good sense would override her inner drive to be with the dogs. When she entered, amid the loud barking of the dogs vying for her attention, Catherine heard a quiet, constant whimpering. For several long minutes she searched, until she was looking into two sad eyes.

Alone in kennel number 32 was a beautiful springer spaniel with long, snow-white hair painted with patches of brown and tan. She had an underbelly that looked like overfilled cow’s udders. “Oh, honey, where are your babies?” Catherine asked lovingly. The dog responded with a loud cry.

Catherine went to the puppy room where she found nine small replicas of their mother, happily bouncing on top of each other, competing for a chance to visit. They were as soft and beautiful as their mother.

Joe, the kennel supervisor, came into the room and said, “Someone just dropped off the mother and all her puppies last night. I expect the puppies will go fast.”

Catherine kept her eyes on the litter. “What about the mother? She really misses her pups terribly. Can I bring her in for a visit?”

“No,” Joe said quickly. “Separating the pups from their mother was traumatic enough. If we let them see each other, we’ll have to do it all over again. Finding the mother a new home is the most difficult task we have now.”

Catherine vowed, “I’ll find their mom a new home before the last of these puppies is taken.”

Joe laughed. “That’s a tall order. I’d encourage you to try, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.”

“Oh, it will happen!” Even Catherine was surprised at the certainty of her voice as she made this declaration.

She returned to the mother’s kennel, opened the cage slowly and invited the dog for a walk. The dog came to Catherine cautiously, with her head low to the ground. Once outside, the dog burst into a fury of movement, running from side to side, as far as the leash would allow. Catherine, surprised by all this activity, realized that the poor dog was looking for her babies.

Catherine sat down on the curb and placed her arms around the dog’s soft body as she spoke lovingly into her ear. “I don’t know why one as sweet and beautiful as you has to suffer the loss of your home, your freedom, your name and especially your precious babies. But I promise to help you find a new home. Let’s begin by giving you a name. How about Mattie?”

In response to her new name, Mattie turned her head toward Catherine so that their deep blue eyes were perfectly aligned. She gently licked Catherine’s face, sensing she had found a friend. Then the corporate president and homeless mother dog sat together quietly.

Catherine managed to steal time out of her busy corporate life every day that week to be with Mattie. Before she left on Friday, she checked the puppy room to find that just two puppies remained. Her plan was to come back to the shelter on the weekend to match Mattie with the best family she could find.

Arriving at the shelter on Saturday, even before it opened, she took Mattie for a walk and brushed her coat. Then she carefully fastened the new red collar she had bought around Mattie’s neck.

Catherine decided to visit the puppy room next, since most people looking for a pet usually start there. After helping several people find dogs that were best suited to their families, Catherine noticed a middle-aged couple enter the puppy room. The petite woman seemed kind, although her husband was large and bearlike. But the way he held his wife’s hand and gazed lovingly into her eyes suggested he was a teddy bear. They were both eyeing the last remaining springer spaniel puppy. After introducing himself as Mr. Goodwin, he asked, “Can you tell me how big this puppy will be when fully grown?”

Catherine, smiling with delight, responded, “Tell you! I can show you exactly how big she will be. And, at the same time, I will introduce you to the best dog we have—this puppy’s mother.” They nodded enthusiastically.

“I’ll bring Mattie out to the exercise pen so you can have a visit,” Catherine offered.

Catherine whispered into Mattie’s upright ear as she walked her to the pen. “This is it! This is your chance for a nice, new family. Be sweet to them, and you’ll go home today, girl.” But when they entered the pen, Mattie was only interested in being with Catherine. The bond between them was so strong that Mattie didn’t even notice the Goodwins.

“I need to make a call. Why don’t you take the leash and see how it feels to walk Mattie? I’ll be right back.” Leaving quickly, Catherine crossed her fingers and held her breath. As she spied at them through the window, she was relieved to see Mattie responding to the couple. The Goodwins took turns walking her, and with each passing moment, it was obvious that they were bonding. When Catherine returned, the couple announced, “We want to take her home.”

As the Goodwins completed the paperwork, Catherine sat with Mattie. Mattie leaned against her as if to offer a last good-bye. Catherine held her close and began to cry. Rather than tears of sadness, they were tears of sheer joy that Mattie was getting a second chance.

She also cried tears of joy for herself because it was through her volunteer experience that she was able to reconnect to a part of herself that had been dying for a long time. Catherine’s heart was now open wide. She remembered what it was like to be a whole and loving human being. And she knew she would bring this wholeness to her work. She had saved one life and changed her own forever.

Jenna Cassell

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on The Humane Society of the United States, contact 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20037; 202-452-1100; Web site: www.hsus.org.]

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