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Good Shelter Work

Dog's_Love petI acted the devil’s advocate. “So here we are, driving to the animal shelter to volunteer when people are hungry. Shouldn’t we be helping at the Food Bank?” I grinned so she knew I was playing a bit.

Reprinted with permission from CatholicSistas.com.

She pursed her sassy, fourteen-year-old lips and dodged. “Well, you can go there with one of the boys.” She has five brothers. “I want to walk the dogs and help people find their perfect pets.” Fair enough. We marched in and donned our aprons and name tags.

My daughter and I volunteered for the first time a few weeks ago at our local animal shelter. (I am not allowed to call it the pound.) We exercised and goofed off with three dogs, tested to see if they knew any commands, cleaned up after them, wrote down our observations in the special notebook, and stacked some dishes. Then, joy of joys, we assisted a couple with the adoption of one of the dogs we’d taken out that very morning.

My girl was able to explain just what she’d done, how the dog responded, and because she reads so much about dogs, to describe what she knew of the breeds that made up the adorable mutt. The world seemed a little sweeter on the drive home and our conversation was as cheerful as any I have ever known. I was sorry I had dragged my feet in scheduling time there. It was a good day.

And I am not a dog person. I deal with the three dogs we have at home because my husband and this daughter of ours love them. But I have learned to see the goodness that pets bring to lives, both in terms of practical responsibilities that parents relish in child raising, and in terms of existential connections that humans cherish in creation. I cannot yell at our dogs because one of them gets nervous and tinkles on the floor. See? Good for home life, too.

I was surprised at the peaceful delight in my soul after our hours at the shelter. I felt close to my daughter, my community, and my Lord. Of course, it helped that the staff (and dogs!) were friendly and appreciative and that we were able to actually aid an adoption our first day. It affected me deeply.

Stimulated by our excellent conversation and experience at the shelter, I poured through our catechism for support and theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and … to know what the Catholic Church believes” (from the introduction). I found several paragraphs to share with my daughter.

“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Man’s dominion over living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”

“Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assisi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals (# 2415-16).”

My daughter hustled off to look up Philip Neri, whom she had never heard of.

“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. . .  Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. . .” (#2427).

My daughter’s work with these animals and the people who happily bring them home is good. She is helping to raise the quality of life for her neighbors and respecting the integrity of creation by actively aiding these dogs kindly and gently and connecting people with prospective pets. She is using her gifts and talents in all her human dignity.

God is pleased with her work and I am honored to toil beside her in our town. It doesn’t have to be either/or between people and animals. It can be both/and. We volunteer away some of our food and we volunteer away some of our time at the shelter. People are blessed. The world is a little better. God is glorified and creation is respected.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was (Matthew 22:36-40), He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We do love God and His love moves us to action. By volunteering at the animal shelter, we are putting love of neighbor back into our community. I am actually looking forward to our next morning there.


Allison and her husband, a former pentecostal pastor, were received into the Church in 2004. She keeps a blog about their Catholic, homeschooling, Alaskan life with kids with cystic fibrosis at http://northerncffamily.blogspot.com.
  • Pax

    sounds all good. I have some friends who are big into animal rescue and like many things there is great value in this kind of work, but it must be kept in proper perspective. Which is more important, caring for animals or people? Which is more important preventing the killing of animals or abortion?
    Still each person must go where they are called and all the work needs doing not just the most important bits.
    My greatest concern with much of animal welfare though is that many who engage in it tend to personify animals in an irrational way, calling them babies and insisting they should be treated as ‘children’ which they are not. In fact treating them as children is something akin to an abuse because you are using a thing for that which it was not intended.
    I often wonder, why so much compassion for these creatures , so many resources, as opposed to for instance pigs, which are just as intelligent and trainable as dogs. Why put so much energy into dogs that are perhaps a little prettier but of no lesser or greater value in the eyes of God as the creatures we routinely send to slaughter houses for food. Is it a lack of proper philosophical perspective?

    • Allison Grace

      Glad you read. Are you asking me why we put energy into our shelter (which takes anything from rats to chickens to lizards to dogs)? I thought I answered that pretty well! The lady who ran our training day was exactly as you describe ~ irrational personification. And animals may be used by humans, whether for work, companionship, or food.

      • Pax

        hmm… I was more wondering what you do to protect your children from the influence of that kind of insanity. My daughter is an animal lover, as are some of her friends. I have always had a great love and respect for God’s creation but find it really irritating when I take my dog who I care deeply for into the vet and they refer to me as her ‘daddy’. Honestly it makes me want to either give them an earful of just walk out. So I guess I’m looking for advice on how to deal with those types of maniacs.

        • Terri Kimmel

          If I may….

          I think modeling an appropriate relationships is probably the most powerful way you can influence “those types of maniacs.” A lot of people I know who talk of their pets this way are very lonely. I think we need to be advocates of the truth, but be compassionate as well. The people at the vet may just have adopted that means of referring to the animals because they’re simply catering to their clientele. I would probably say something if I was in your shoes. “No, there’s no familial relationship here. He’s just my dog.”

          • Pax

            agreed about children and modeling. Still I’d rather not have young impressionable children around people who speak in a way that is confusing to them. When it comes to the vet. I think you are right they have adopted speech that is pleasing to their clientele. I’m not sure if that is worse reflection on them or their clientele. Still there are worse things to worry about in a society , not that this kind of thing doesn’t contribute.
            ‘If the only difference between a pigs snout and a mans nose is a set of accidents, they why treat men any differently then pigs’.
            So, if we treat animals like people, we re-enforce the treatment of people like animals.