How Volunteering at an Animal Shelter is Still Helping Me Today

When I was 10 years old, the girl scout troop I was a part of decided to throw a fundraiser for an animal shelter that was close to where I lived. I had always liked animals, but visiting the shelter for the first time was one of the most impactful moments of my life. My parents didn’t like the idea of bringing a pet into the household, so I spent most of my childhood with minimal contact with cats and dogs. Going to the animal shelter showed me what I had been missing. I enjoyed taking care of and playing with the animals at the shelter, and decided that I would volunteer there in a few years once I satisfied the age requirement.

In the meantime, I tried to get through what I think were some of the most challenging years of my life. Although I had been bubbly and confident in elementary school, my middle school years were filled with extreme shyness and insecurity. I never spoke out in class, and never tried to talk to anyone new. The only friends I had were the ones I knew from elementary school. I was so quiet and shy that my classmates often wouldn’t know my name well into the school year. This shyness negatively impacted my performance in school. I was scared of asking for help when I didn’t understand something, because I didn’t want to waste my teachers’ time. I was also scared to join clubs and organizations, because I worried that my classmates didn’t like me and I wanted to avoid spending more time with them than was necessary.

Once I finally turned 14, I was old enough to volunteer at the animal shelter. I submitted an application right away and began volunteering as soon as I could. At the shelter, I spent the majority of my time socializing cats and dogs and helping them become more friendly so that they could be adopted. I loved volunteering at the shelter, and would go in very often. Spending time with animals was therapeutic and comforting, and the idea that I was helping save lives by volunteering at the shelter filled me with a lot of happiness. The one thing I didn’t like about volunteering at the shelter was interacting with people. As a volunteer, I had to communicate regularly with not only other volunteers and staff, but also shelter visitors. I was supposed to talk with prospective adopters about the animals they were interested in, and facilitate the adoption process. Being as socially awkward as I was, I lacked the ability to communicate with shelter visitors in a pleasant enough way that would encourage them to adopt the animals I had spent so much time caring for.

I felt really bad that I had gained a lot of comfort and happiness from spending time with shelter animals, but I wasn’t doing a great job of helping them get out of the shelter. I resolved to overcome some of my shyness, and told myself I would be confident and talkative for the few hours that I was at the shelter. It was really hard in the beginning to push myself out of my comfort zone and talk with strangers, but it got easier over time. It eventually got so easy that I found myself being talkative and confident outside of the shelter and in my everyday life. I had convinced myself to be a sociable person for at least the time I spent in the shelter, but I was eventually able to be a more sociable person most of the time. And it made me realize that people really did not dislike me, and that I could be strong. I went from pretending to be confident to actually being confident.

Middle school felt unproductive and traumatizing, but high school was fun and I accomplished a lot of what I had set out to do. I ended up being an active part of a few organizations I was passionate about, and studied really hard. I ended up getting some of the internships I had really wanted while in high school, and volunteering at the animal shelter allowed me to take strength from what I was passionate about - helping animals - and become a more self-assured individual. If it weren’t for my time at the animal shelter, I doubt I would be as happy and sociable as I am now.