Pretty much every person is an animal lover. That’s why the “Faith in Humanity Restored” Youtube videos of people saving animals exist or when we can’t help but to shed a tear or many tears when we hear Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” on the television for the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commercial. I think it comes to us humans naturally to want to extend compassion to animals.
Speaking from my personal recovery, it sometimes seems easier to extend compassion to others than it is to myself. But I’m learning that giving as well as allowing myself to receive is imperative for the healing path. I first thought to myself, “ I should volunteer somewhere to give back to the community”. I had no idea how much I would end up receiving in the end from my volunteer work. Typically when you first volunteer somewhere, you must work your way up to the more “desired” volunteer positions. When I first volunteered at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, they started me out on washing dishes covered in fish scales and cleaning up poop painted elephant seal pens. But before I started, I had to interview for the position and show that I was a trustworthy and reliable person as animal care positions usually require a year commitment. I was so glad I decided to “stick it out” because no matter how much I sweated in my rubber water-proof overalls while scrubbing dry poop off the walls, the job needed to be done. In fact, this not-so glamorous job was absolutely important for the well-being of the animals and staff and therefore it was just as meaningful to sanitize sea lion pens as it was to participate in the marine mammal rescue team.
I remember when I finally got the opportunity to be on the rescue side of the operation. We got a call that there was a baby sea lion near 56th street in Newport. The situation was especially precarious because he was on the jetty. To top it all off, he was near the water where he could easily escape if spooked. Sometimes it’s a tough call to make. Some seals don’t need our help and would be better off in their ocean home; however, for this guy he needed our help. He was emaciated and dehydrated. We could tell he was dehydrated because he was emaciated (seals and sea lions get water from eating fish.) With team work, we were able to rescue the little guy. We later named him “Hot toddy” because it was Christmastime. April 8th was the date he was released back to his home. Releases are often emotional and sometimes bittersweet. Mostly it is sweetness that we feel, but there’s some sadness there too. When you work closely with animals you start to see them as the individuals they are and when it comes to saying goodbye it requires a bit of serenity and trust. Trust that they are somewhere better where they belong. In this case, it was their home in the Ocean.
I sometimes isolate from friends and family when I’m feeling sad or overwhelmed. I also tend to isolate when my everyday responsibilities become to much for me to
handle. Perhaps the greatest gift I received from volunteering was that it surrounded me with a loving community that shared a similar goal. I felt humbled to know that collectively we were working towards something that was bigger than ourselves. While I was at PMMC I created some good friendships and some good memories I could reflect on.
For those who want to get involved at an animal shelter, wildlife rehabilitation center, pet adoptions, Senior Living Home, Soup kitchen or any place for any cause you feel your heart called to, make sure to research the organization to make sure you agree and support their mission, that the organization ethically treat their patients with respect, safety, dignity and safe treatment. Also research the qualifications, experience and time commitment needed for the position.
Donating your time, attention, skill and love can truly have an impact on those you serve, including yourself.
By: Kiona E.