“Who’s Rusty?” I asked.
Rusty was a poodle at the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) where I was about to volunteer as part of my employer’s community program. My friend went the week before and strained his back walking a dog. “Yeah, some of them were HUGE,” he said. “Rusty’s very docile. Pick him fast or you could be stuck with a pony-sized dog like I was. If he fights the leash while you walk him like mine did…” he pointed at his back.
I dismissed his concerns because I was signed up to work with cats at the shelter. “I’m a cat person, not into dogs, you know what I mean?” I’d told my colleague coordinating the event and she’d assured me that I would work only with cats. Growing up, I had three cats, all rescued off the streets but my parents kept them when I went to college. Volunteering at the animal shelter was a chance to fulfill the craving for cat loving, with the possibility of adoption if the special cat came along. Or so I thought. When our team of 10 volunteers got to the shelter, the shelter worker was surprised.
“You’re supposed to come next Saturday! We’re overstaffed today,” he said. “Never mind, we’ll find some dogs for you to walk.”
Dogs? “What about cats?” I asked anxiously.
“Nope, there’s a cat shift here already,” he replied. Grudgingly, I followed the group to the dog-pen, where we were handed doggy poop bags. “When they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go,” the shelter worker said and stuffed three in my hand. I’d never walked a dog before. The barking, the excited bouncing, made me very nervous. While I tried to convince myself that everything would be fine, the shelter worker assigned dogs to my fellow teammates. One by one, the dogs trotted out the shelter. “Where’s Rusty?” I asked, suddenly remembering my friend’s advice. “Someone else took her,” the worker replied. I passed on big dog after bigger dog. Finally, a petite brown sausage dog called Mellie was led out. “That’s mine,” I said quickly. Surely I can handle a dog this small, I thought.
Twenty yards outside the shelter, Mellie wheezed and stopped walking. “Come on Mellie, come on,” I urged. Mellie wouldn't move. Mellie was concentrating. Mellie was...With a sigh, I pulled out one of the poop bags and squished Mellie’s poop inside. A fellow volunteer walked by with his giant black dog. “My dog peed on an abandoned couch!” he laughed. Others were already bonding with their dogs but Mellie’s dog soul and the cat in me didn't click.
Another block later, Mellie started straining at the leash and barking. “Come on Mellie,” I cooed. What was I supposed to do? Fight the dog? Give in? I squatted and tried to figure out what was wrong. Mellie stared at me with her droopy eyes. She looked like she had a sad story to tell. Was she abandoned as a puppy? She looked scared when I raised my hand to pat her. “Aww Mellie, I just wanted to pat you,” I said. I could feel something intense happening as we looked at each other. Was this a cat person bonding with a dog?
Then, Mellie frowned. “Mellie? Mellie! What are you doing? No, not again!” When she was done pooping, she wiped her hind legs on the pavement signaling me to clean up. “Got your daily vegetables eh?" I said accusingly as I whipped out the second poop bag. We walked on in an uneasy peace. Two blocks later, Mellie stopped yet again. I waited. Nothing happened. I patted her, rubbed her stomach, tickled her ears. Still nothing.
I gave up and carried Mellie to the dog park.
At the park, I removed the leash and watched Mellie romp with other dogs. When she started chasing a much larger dog, her stumpy legs flashing amidst the green grass, I was moved by her pluck, and I couldn’t help but cheer for her. “Look at you! I thought you said you’re not a dog person!” my colleague laughed. Was I a changed person? I still preferred cats but my time with Mellie had overcome my dog aversion. Mellie sensed it too because the walk back was a lot smoother. When we got back to the shelter, I gave Mellie a goodbye cuddle and she licked me all over. “I can tell you two had a good time,” the shelter worker said. “By the way, the first cat shift’s gone so I was hoping you could help clean some cat cages.”
Finally! I was heading towards the sound of meowing when I heard Mellie bark. Did I forget something? Ah yes! “You can have this,” I returned the last poop bag to the shelter worker. “You’ll need it with this one,” I said and winked at Mellie, who wagged her tail happily.