I love animals. For years I’ve considered volunteering at an animal shelter, but my fear that my heart would break in a thousand different ways kept me away until this past winter. On a whim, I decided to sign-up to voluneer at Ohio Allycat Resource.
The shelter is a nice place, not the dingy wall to wall crates with terrified furry little souls inside I had imagined. Most of the cats are in large rooms filled with toys, soft beds and each room has its own little cat doors out to catios where there’s endless bird and squirrel watching available to them. The fact that this temporary home is so nicely outfitted neutralized my worries about leaving my shifts filled with sadness.
While I worried over how much sadness this weekly ritual would bring, I was surprised to find how much it filled me up to do dirty work with several other people who would squeal at kittens just as much as I do. The work is not at all glamorous, scrubbing litter boxes, scraping kitten poo off the wall, mopping, cleaning dishes, and changing over laundry. And yet there’s something about it that’s feeding my soul.
When COVID-19 really hit here and Ohio was on lock-down, that group of folks feeding and cleaning up after cats were the only people I would see in person every week apart from my wife. I’d never thought my 2 or 3 days at the office really did much for me, but without it I was feeling the strain of isolation. I didn’t know I needed small social interactions until the pandemic.
Week by week we would clean pounds and pounds of litter, and pause to chat. It was never spoken aloud that we all needed a bit more social interaction, but we would linger over the dishes and check-in with each other. We would have conversations about what the pandemic was like for each of us spread across the hallway. Those weeks that I was feeling the most alone, I looked forward to those shifts.
We’ve negotiated how we can see our friends now, usually outside and at a distance, and I’m feeling less of the strain of isolation. Those cats and the folks caring for those cats really helped carry me through those tough weeks. That routine felt like the one sure thing I could hang on to for a couple months. And I am tremendously grateful.