“Her name was Lo-la! She was a show-dog…” It was 10 a.m. on a sunny Sunday, and Louis, the dog volunteer coordinator, broke into a rousing introduction of the adoptable canines, whom six sleepy but willing volunteers had signed up to walk.
Lola was a lovable lassie – technically a pit-bull blend (most shelter dogs are; a recent review of Animal Care & Control‘s adoptable dogs shows about two-thirds are part pit), probably bred to fight but visibly born to please. She emerged affably from around the corner where the “adoptables” are housed and did not jump or jerk from her handler.
“Hey Lola,” I cooed, squatting down, trying to position myself alongside her as Lou had recommended, versus in her face. Lola paused and pivoted at my knees, forming a crescent with her body and twitching her tail in response. “Aw, she’s turning for you – that’s a way of showing herself to you, because she trusts you. She’s like, ‘A’ight, we’re cool, here I am,’” Lou encouraged.
With her Dalmatian-spotted ears, muscular white body and black Spud patch over her right eye, Lola was a looker, and ready to ramble. Tim, my pooch partner for the morning, and I headed out for our directed route – a block and a half from the shelter to a local park.
“I have family who live right over there, and there,” Lou had said in the morning, gesturing at buildings off 1st and 2nd avenues, between which the shelter stands on 110th Street in Manhattan. “I used to walk by here all the time, not knowing what this was. Now I know…and there’s a lot, I had no idea.”
Animal Care & Control is not a no-kill shelter, mostly because, as Tim gently reminded, it can be extremely expensive long-term to care for the animals who arrive there with serious health conditions. ACC veterinarians evaluate the dogs for any ‘concerns’ before they are released and exposed to visitors. Those that volunteers meet with are approved as ‘no-concern,’ or as having only mild issues.
After returning Lola to Lou’s care, Tim and I took on a rambunctious, beautiful brown-coated dog called Hitch. “Hitch doesn’t know anything yet, he’s just six months – he has no manners,” Lou said. “If he gets to be a little too much, just come back…if you want to play with him here, that’s cool too.” By this point, Hitch was prostrate on his back, paws in the air, belly exposed and begging for love. Later as we walked, Tim said, “Somebody probably thought you were just a cute little puppy, and then you got big real fast…”
We ran him to expend some of his energy. We decided to avoid the populated areas inside the park where we’d strolled Lola, among the barbecues and bullish, barking dogs. For safety of the animals and humans, ACC discourages “socializing” the dogs with others, even if they appear friendly, as well as with their owners or admirers.
Once Hitch had spent himself, we returned to base and closed out our two-hour session. I saw other volunteers returning, feeling and looking happy. Inspired by our interactions, I felt compelled to see my dogs’ neighbors and ventured into where their cages stood. They were a mix of mastiffs and bull terriers, and the signs on their large cages showed they were between six months and three years old. Some of the signs bore the headline, “Can go home today!” All of the dog’s expressions and urgent greetings implored the same.
We volunteers had done the dogs – and ACC – a service that morning, and I am grateful for all the volunteers and families-to-be who give all the animals their deserved TLC. I was happy to have learned more about, and seen first-hand, some of the work of the ACC employees.
The two hours I’d spent with the dogs made that much more meaningful for me the partnership between New York Cares and other volunteers and ACC. It seems simple enough but is essential: theoretically, the more the dogs are walked, the less likely they are to be anxious or become aggressive – making them more adoptable. Getting the dogs out of their cages and out in the open also raises their visibility to prospective pet owners, who can be referred to ACC for screening and selection. And, the benefit to humans is palpable – from the moment you meet that first dog, no bones about it.
Barbara Chen volunteers with New York Cares and the Taproot Foundation. Her favorite doggy moments include covering the K9 units of the New York City Police Department, where she is employed.