Yesterday was my first time volunteering at a local homeless animal shelter. It's a pretty nice place - very fancy for an animal shleter and no-kill to boot. As far as shelter dogs go, these dogs have it made. I had a brief orientation and then spent a few hours picking out some likely looking dogs and taking them for walks. There are trails in the woods and we'd walk there. When we were finished, there'd be treats and a wading pool. It was as rewarding as I would have hoped and I felt pretty good.
Around bedtime, when the lights went off, is when all the other feelings started. I'd lay there and the faces of the dogs would wheel through my mind, the way they'd jump and bark and lick your face when you tried to put the leash around their neck and how they'd pull and pull all along those trails, straining at their leash, happy for the smallest taste of freedom. Mostly I thought of a little guy in the corner kennel who wouldn't come out at all, but would sit and tremble and lick your hand as long as you liked. It started to hurt a little bit, in my soul, you know, so I turned it off and fell asleep.
I woke up a half hour before my alarm and my thought were instantly back on the dogs. Now, 24 hours later, I've got an ache and a tremble in my belly. We'll call this feeling compassion, for lack of a better word. It is a heartsore feeling. Apparently, this compassion thing involves muscles I don't use often enough.