Critter Chat – December 21, 2016

When my sister and I were children, we would write letters to Santa. In fact, our mother still has a section of the Manhattan, Kan., newspaper that printed lots of letters from our classes in Northview Elementary School. We laugh now because my letters and even my whispers to Santa as I sat on his lap reflected what my sister told me I wanted for Christmas.

I love this time of year! I love the music, the decorations, the Christmas movies and stories, the food, the holiday spirit, and, above all, the message of Christmas and Hanukkah. I admit to you, this year I’m struggling to enjoy it all.

This year, if I were to write a letter, I would ask for the fulfillment of a thought expressed by Charles Dickens, “Have a heart that never hardens, a touch that never hurts, and a temper that never tires.” Each time that thought comes to my mind, the thought is accompanied by remembrances of animals I have seen.

At the shelter this year, we have seen the best and worst of human hearts, touches, and tempers.

Most of the time, we see the best of the human hearts when people come to the shelter to volunteer. They sincerely want to make a difference in the lives of the shelter animals. They are stronger than I was in 1985 when I volunteered on Saturdays to help clean the cat room. The first day I came in, I saw an emaciated Doberman who had mange. I was devastated and wondered if I would be able to volunteer. Thankfully, most of the volunteers we have now have found joy in forgetting their own pain while serving the animals.

An old, skinny beagle had obviously not had an easy life. Her body bore evidence of bearing numerous litters of puppies. During and after hunting season, we receive a lot of the hunting breeds. Sometimes, they are lost. Sometimes, they are abandoned. This old gal wandered into a yard where a kindhearted person lives. She was brought to the shelter because of her obvious problems. When she was put into a cage, she immediately ate a bowl of food, drank some water, and then curled onto the blanket and fell asleep. Again, she is evidence of the best and worst.

Each of the thousands of animals we receive each year comes with a story. A man brought a little kitten to us. He told us that a man with a bad temper had kicked the kitten in the head. She didn’t survive. When we went and spoke with the man who was accused, he told us if he had wanted to kill the kitten, he would have shot her.

Most of the animals we receive have been touched by the worst and by the best. Sometimes, the worst is a person who has abandoned, or abused, or neglected the animal. Sometimes, the best is a police officer, animal control officer, or member of the public who sees a need in the animal.

A few days ago, a young girl brought us some dog food. At the top of her wish list was “food for the shelter animals.” What a pure reminder that there are such good people in this world.

Finally, at this holiday season, we are grateful for the good people who have helped us help the animals that have been hurt by the bad ones. Our childish letters to Santa have been replaced by grown-up prayers: “Please help everyone to have hearts that never harden, gentle touches that never hurt, and tempers that never tire.”

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