Alan Marshall Jr.
This week, April 12-18, is National Volunteer Week, so I was asked by staff why I volunteer at GCHS. A simple question right back at you; Have You Seen Those Faces?!?! The faces of hundreds of discarded pets behind the gates and windows at the shelter - dogs, cats, rabbits, Guinea pigs, and recently, even a very large pig named Wilbur.
Yes, those beautiful, sometimes haunting, whiskered faces that deserve so much more from life. The bright, wide eyed look of a weeks-old puppy or kitten, excitedly greeting this strange person in front of them, no suspicion, just eager to be accepted to live amongst us. The sad eyes of a senior animal who, until recently, had spent his whole life with a single human or family. But his world has been turned upside down, and now he lives at the shelter, yearning to find a new “forever” human. The smile (yes, I truly believe dogs can smile!) of a one eyed dog, beaten so badly in her past life her other eye could not be saved. But here, she smiles at me as I open her gate, looking forward to belly rubs, ball fetching, or just sitting in a lap that isn't quite big enough to hold her. A fragile, disheveled little mutt, picked up off the street a hundred miles from here, and now all alone in a large run. Large dark eyes a mile deep, trembling and cowering slightly, but all the while tail wagging as I reach for her to give her comfort. For my simple effort, which is truly no effort at all, I receive quick little kisses on the nose from a darting tongue. The stories are endless, but those faces are all right there.
After being in law enforcement for almost thirty years, I thought I had seen the absolute worst, and occasionally, the best, of humans. But in my time here at GCHS, I have seen the results of a different, very dark side of humanity. One-time pets abandoned, abused, neglected and even maliciously tortured by the ones supposedly responsible for their care and protection. Animals left on the side of the road, bloody, starving, waiting for death to ease their pain, animals set on fire, doused with acid, left tethered out in the elements without the least bit of attention so long their collars have become embedded in the skin of their necks, raw and oozing, or attacked so savagely at the hands of a human they have lost limbs, ears, eyes, and/or other body parts. Acts so inhumane I cannot civilly discuss here what I wish to be the fate of those responsible.
But I have also learned that these animals are amazingly resilient, and that is where the Gulf Coast Humane Society comes in. When my wife, Teresa, and I decided we wanted to help animals in distress, we researched a few local shelters on the Web. We visited GCHS first and almost immediately decided we needed to look no further. We were impressed with how the staff and volunteers were so focused on the welfare of all the creatures under their care, with the daily ritual of cleaning, feeding, medicating, and socializing of so many animals, and the great efforts these people went through to raise money for this non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of those society has failed. The people who work at GCHS, the administrators, the doctors, the clinic and kennel techs (Luckey, you're THE MAN!), and the support staff all exude a love for these animals that is contagious to anyone who sees fit to spend a little time there. With all that I have seen in this world, I know that these people, these extremely humane humans, are some of the best of society, deserving a special place in heaven when it is their turn to pass over the rainbow bridge.
Due to the efforts of this team, I have witnessed animals come back from almost certain death to be virtually guaranteed to, one day, find their forever home. I have had dogs who had previously been physically abused or used as bait dogs by humans almost knock me down in their excitement to see me and be with me, if only for a short time each visit. I have seen animals whose legs had to be amputated running, playing and enjoying life mere weeks after surgery. These simple animals hold no grudges, no longer fear what some humans are capable of. Some of them need help with social skills, but their recoveries and attitudes are nothing short of miraculous. GCHS is a no-kill shelter, so it could be days, weeks, months, or even years, but eventually, that special day comes, their human walks in the door. It's that face! That expression! That look! Strangers, biped/quadruped, instantly become lifelong friends, buddies, pals.
So there you have it, I volunteer at GCHS for of a selfish reason...I get to see those fantastic, excited, pitiful, playful, scarred, smiling, furry faces every time I do.