Haven Volunteer Story
Written by: Colleen Barry-Goodman
Once I had a dog named Buster. Buster the Beagle. About 12 years ago, when my (now) husband Craig and I started dating, he had this rescue dog. It turned out that Craig was Buster's third home in 3 years, and he had more than a few neurotic tendencies. In the beginning, Buster was a bit jealous of my relationship with Craig. If Craig and I sat on the couch to watch a movie or TV or something, Buster would come and sit between us. After a while he figured out I wasn't going anywhere, and we made our peace (made a little easier with my liberal distribution of Milkbones). Even though we had a nice relationship, he was always Craig's dog, and that was okay.
About three years ago, Buster's health went into decline. His hearing was failing, his eyesight wasn't great, and he didn't have much energy any more. During the Christmas holidays in 2008, I told my sister that 2008 would be the last road trip from Lubbock to Houston for Buster. It was very difficult for him to get in and out of the car, and the commotion of my family was a bit much for him. We hoped that if we were lucky we would board him the following year. We knew that we might not be that lucky.
In early September 2009, Buster had some terrible nights. One morning, we got up and he was in such bad shape we rushed him to the vet. After some tests we were told that they could keep him over the weekend for additional testing, but even if they figured out what was wrong and we were able to treat it, we probably wouldn't get more than a month or two more, and that would be with a very poor quality of life. So we took Buster home to spend one last day with him, and then returned to the vet's office that afternoon.
That's when I realized that Buster wasn't just Craig's dog.
A week or so later we gathered up the majority of Buster's things and donated them to The Haven, a local no-kill animal shelter we were familiar with. Thus began my weekly ritual. I would go out to The Haven every Saturday, and I would spend a couple hours socializing and walking dogs (Craig is very allergic to cats, so they're a no-go). I especially liked a group of pit mixes who were in the pens next to the New Hospital trailer. Every week I would sprint with Charity, walk along with Sandy until she rolled on her back for a belly rub, play with Jane and try to get her to stop being so mouthy, and walk Big Buster. I would walk around the entire property and hand out treats to every dog -- even tossing them in with the dogs that weren't so friendly or happy to see me.
About two months into my regular Saturdays, I was playing with one of the dogs and I watched someone bring in a small beagle mix. (I remember texting my husband and telling him about the beagle). A bit later one of the staff had me put that little dog in a pen. Before I got to the front of the property she was trotting along at my heels. I went back and closed off what I thought was the avenue of escape she had used, and I left for the day. (Later I learned she got out numerous more times over that next week. Turns out she was a climber.) The next week I dragged my husband out to see her, and we put in an application on her -- Craig wasn't so sure, but I insisted. We got to take Liberty, our Jack Russell/Beagle (we think) mix, home the first week of December.
But I didn't want to stop going to The Haven -- I had bonded with some of those other dogs, too. So I kept going out there. The daughter of a friend was doing community service hours for credit at her high school, and we started going out as a duo. We'd each visit with a different dog, sometimes in adjacent pens, sometimes a couple pens apart, making sure to spend as much time as we could with some of the dogs that were considered long shots for adoption. I got to know an older shepherd mix named Milo, who, regardless of the fact that he weighed about 60lbs, climbed in my lap every time I sat on the ground. He liked it best when you scratched just under his ears and when you got your face close enough to his that he could lick it clean.
After a few months my friend's daughter got busy, and I started spending more time with the dogs on Saturdays, always trying my best to spend time with some of the dogs that had been on the property longer and didn't have as good a chance at adoption as some of the cute, tiny puppies.
In the spring of 2010, my family suffered a tragic loss. The next several months were particularly difficult. But Milo, Charity, Sandy, Jane, Buster, the trio of basset hounds, and a host of other four-legged friends? They never cared whether I had anything to say. I could sit with them and be sad or happy or anywhere in between, and they were content just to be near me. At that time, I needed that more than anything.
My Saturdays at the shelter got longer. I started going in the morning and taking my lunch out there and I started working on training some young and energetic dogs, hoping to improve their chances of finding permanent homes. I started helping with other things sometimes, like an occasional adoption event or other tasks that needed to be done around the shelter property.
I fell in love with Ladybird, the rottweiler/bird dog mix, and we bonded as I taught her a long list of basic commands. Ginger, a terrier mix in the next pen, stole my heart when she picked up on the commands because she wanted treats, too. When a young woman who was a perfect fit for Ginger came in, I lobbied Dr. Wilbanks to approve the adoption application (she did, though I doubt I had much to do with it). When Ladybird was adopted, one of The Haven staff texted me to let me know. I cried sitting at my desk at work in the middle of the day because I was so happy she was getting a good home. I was excited when Howard, a medium sized brown dog of about 5 years old who we feared had missed his window for adoption found the perfect home. And my pit mixes? Charity, Sandy, and Jane found awesome homes. We're still hopeful one day Big Buster will find his.
I've even gotten to know some of The Haven's hard cases, dogs who don't think much of strangers, but do warm up if you're around a lot and they feel they can trust you. It took me a year to go in with Lee the Aussie mix. I had gotten to where he would take treats from me long before, but I was too nervous to go in with him. After a while I decided that I'd give it a try, and we've been good buddies ever since. It warms my heart to know that he's made a lot more friends, too. The chow chows, Belinda and Omar, were a bit more intimidating for me, probably because there are two of them, and it took me about 18 months before I'd go in with them. Now I make it a point to visit them every time I go out, and Belinda will chase around a tennis ball. Last week Omar brought me a tennis ball, too. I don't think he knows what to do with it, but he likes the idea. I'm still working on Lucy the Dalmation mix and Flame the lab mix .
I've done a lot of other things for the shelter -- helped with more adoption events, wrangled dogs for photo shoots, taken a cat on a plane to Houston so that it could be adopted through a rescue there (as part of a trade I facilitated with a friend in Houston who had an unadoptable cat that needed sanctuary placement.) I've shoveled dog poo, dragged around water hoses (and gallon jug when the wells went out), mowed, run the weed eater, learned to clip dog nails, learned to remove (and kill!) ticks, learned to deworm dogs, broken ice in water buckets, gotten pretty good at guessing the age of a dog by its teeth, and probably 10 other things I've forgotten. I've also spent my day job lunch hour (I'm on staff at TTU) as a Haven representative to student organizations and watching service learning presentations in classes that designed projects, wrote grants, or conducted fundraisers for The Haven.
This year we've lost a number of older dogs at The Haven. Early in the year we lost Warren, an old lab mix with one eye but a nose for treats. We lost Bonnie, a coon dog mix who was known for her intolerance of other dogs in her youth, but who mellowed in her old age and whose mournful eyes would swallow you whole. We lost Razzo, an old man, one of the trio of basset hounds -- he loved a good bath and always had a spring in his step right after a good scrubbing. We lost Fancy, a little Welsh terrier with a spitfire personality, who, regardless of her advanced age and failing health, was always going 90 to nothing. They are missed.
In early November, Milo the shepherd mix died. Milo was about 14-15 years old and had been a resident of The Haven for more than 10 years. Milo was one of the first Haven dogs I bonded with, and he will be missed.
I volunteer at The Haven because these animals deserve to be loved while they are here, and they deserve to be missed when they are gone.
Please come to The Haven and fall in love with some of our dogs and cats. Maybe you can't take them home -- That's okay. You can love them at The Haven, too, and the time you spend will make a tremendous difference in their lives. And you might find, as I have, that they make a tremendous difference in your life, too.