I was employed for nearly 30 years with an engineering firm before I entered the world of sheltering. I learned a lot about business but always yearned for a job that I could "feel good about." I had been involved in animal welfare as a volunteer when I found out about a position at The Washington Animal Rescue League. I had a friend who was leaving and encouraged me to apply for the Animal Welfare Manager opening. It was a perfect match for my skills....at half the pay! I discussed this mid-life career change with my husband and we decided I would go for it.
And I got the job. I put in my two weeks' notice; said goodbye to old friends; and have never looked back.
Imagine having a job where you never looked at the clock, and worked 60 hours a week with no regrets. Responding to disasters and rescues has just been the "glamorous" part of the job. On a recent trip to Alabama after devastating tornadoes hit the ground, riding back 20 hours with sick animals on the truck made me rethink this dream. But as exhausted, smelly, and filthy as you get, you know in your heart that you have truly changed an animal's life -- from that of desperation to feeling safe. In our organization, the mission is to rescue those animals that have no one to look after them or care for them. I'm always reinvigorated when I look into the eyes of an animal that is willing to trust again.
One of the greatest animal lessons I've learned in my five years with the League was from Michael Vick's dogs. We had 11 of them before they went to Best Friends Animal Society. I was one of the fortunate caretakers who fed them, cleaned their runs, and took them outdoors for fresh air.
We rarely know the history of an animal when it comes to the League but we knew the history of these dogs, and it was horrific. Dog fighting, neglect, abuse... they had seen it all. And as a result of their treatment, they were considered to be "the worst of the worst." But you know what? These dogs were some of the most affectionate, people-loving animals I have ever met. Of course they were afraid at first, but with constant care, attention and enrichment from a small group of dedicated staff members, they turned from fearful, aloof dogs into just dogs -- dogs that wagged their tails and wiggled in excitement upon seeing me. They taught me so much about redemption and love.
And it's not just about the animals; it's also the people. Taking care of the people who love animals is rewarding too. Having coworkers who are absolutely committed to the mission of our organization and who want to help those in need is also very gratifying.
In many large corporations the sole mission is to make the stockholders rich. In my job, there are no fat cats, just homeless animals in our care, ready to go home.
Mary Jarvis is the Chief Operating Officer for the Washington Animal Rescue League. She has been in the animal welfare field for more than 10 years.
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