Autobiography / Coping mechanisms

Wednesdays with the SPCA

More often than not, balancing military wifedom with a traditional career is difficult. This is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous knowns of the military world, and I came into it understanding that joblessness was on my immediate horizon. Despite a decision not to search for local work upon arriving in California, I didn’t make an adequate plan for dealing with the gaping, useless chunks of time now open on my schedule.

After six months of battling with those chunks of time, Jonathan suggested we both start volunteering at the SPCA for Monterey County.

SPCA Monterey County

A little backstory: From elementary school onward, I lived a life set by and dependent upon strict schedules; by my senior of college year, I had my days meticulously planned in 30-minute blocks to make sure no meetings or meals were skipped in the balance. Because, yes–if I didn’t make a point to highlight mealtimes, I would schedule time for a group project, then for a rehearsal, then an interview or a photo shoot, and this would go on until 9:00pm when I’d dump out all the contents of my stage management kit to find a flattened, four-month-old Cliff Bar I kept for sustenance emergencies.

When I entered the workforce, I developed routines and schedules right away, from an on-the-dot shower time every morning to a once-weekly grocery extravaganza that included two separate lists, meal plans, and a budget. The 9-to-5 life I lived in Washington, D.C., though admittedly tiresome, was a luxury. Planning and scheduling have always been a way of life for me, and I rely on them to create stability whenever I feel it wavering.

When I entered the world of the U.S. Army dependent, my day planner ceremoniously threw itself out the window, into oncoming traffic. RIP day planner.

My urge to plan and schedule was still there, but there were far fewer necessities to fill in the gaps. The result was a mental daily itinerary, chock-full of banal or pointless activities such as “match and fold socks” and “make eye contact with dog” and “rearrange the shoe rack” and “stare out the front window from 2:30-3:00.” At first it was kind of funny, in an ironic way. But then I caught myself telling a friend I was “too busy” to meet her for lunch, when in reality I had only kept my afternoon free because I wanted to vacuum dog hair off the couches.

When we took in our fat cat Layla a month or two ago, Jonathan and I hit the two-pet limit for our household (put in place partially in case we travel overseas, and partially as a budget consideration). Jonathan had been kicking around the idea of volunteering at the SPCA since we got to California; after our home hit its pet capacity and my schedule hit its agoraphobia capacity, we filled out our volunteer applications and went through training.

The SPCA for Monterey County (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) gets 20-30 new volunteer applications every week. Some applicants, like me, are DLI or NPS military spouses here for a short time. Many are military members studying at DLI or NPS, but with weekends free. And many are community members, young and old, who see the work this incredible organization does, and want to be a part of it.

SPCA Monterey volunteers.jpg

The SPCA for Monterey County is its own independent organization, without a parent or affiliate (which was a surprise to me). It’s tucked away up in the mountains, near Laguna Seca, and is a nonprofit, donor-funded humane society that’s been operating for over 100 years. The time and dedication put in is telling; neither Jonathan nor I have ever been to a humane society as well cared for as this one. With a small number of staff, the SPCA relies on its large volunteer corps to walk dogs, socialize cats, tend to the barn (where there are horses, geese, roosters, chickens, and other barn animals), help customers, clean, and more.

SPCA Monterey dogs and cats

Animals are surrendered to the SPCA for many reasons, and the organization offers rescue and rehabilitation for wildlife, animal cruelty investigations, and aid for domestic pets. For example, the facility is currently housing 14 pomeranians and chihuahuas seized from a local hoarding case and currently in protective custody. Staff and volunteers are working with the dogs to socialize them to both humans and other dogs, and to identify any health or behavioral problems. I was able this week to help with a play group for these dogs, who were introduced to the other small dogs currently on the SPCA floor. Imagine, if you will, 25 tiny, fluffy dogs from two months old to seven years, chasing each other playfully and competing for belly rubs.

SPCA Monterey small dogs

I’m volunteering, for now, a few hours a week with the dogs and cats. The major task for my shift, for now, is to take the dogs for walks and keep their “condos” clean. When I arrived for my first non-training day, it was immediately apparent why all the dogs on the adoption floor are generally happy and well behaved: Even first thing in the morning, the building is filled with smiling volunteers and especially friendly staff who socialize and care for the dogs as if they were their own. Yesterday there were even two two-month-old puppies hanging out in–and peeing all over–the volunteer coordinator’s office.

Many people (myself included, until now) are hesitant to volunteer at a humane society. The general fear is that we will feel sorry for the animals and end up adopting them, even if our better judgement says we shouldn’t. And while that’s always a concern (I WANT TO HUG ALL THE ANIMALS ALL THE TIME), at the SPCA for Monterey County, adoptable dogs and cats are usually not adoptable for long; by this Wednesday, at least half the dogs on the adoption floor from last Wednesday had been sent to their forever homes and replaced with new adoptable dogs. The rapidity of the adoption cycle makes it easier to not form obsessive emotional attachments to individual animals.

With that in mind, if you’re in the Monterey area and want to browse through two rooms of something like 25 kittens, get there now before all their tiny adorable paws have been adopted by somebody else.

The SPCA is one of several volunteering opportunities I’ve snagged in the past few months, so my schedule is bulking up with time well spent. Which leaves much less time to stare longingly into Loxley’s eyes, but I think he forgives me.

Robin of Loxley

Do you volunteer? What is your most memorable volunteering experience? What else do you do to constructively fill your downtime?

3 thoughts on “Wednesdays with the SPCA

  1. what a great story, aileen! i am so glad to hear you are no longer busy filling your afternoons with sock folding but rather caring for these animals. Time well spent indeed! 🙂

  2. I don’t volunteer nearly as much as I used to but in the past I’ve:
    – Completed rehab for habitats for humanity (playground clean up, deck painting)
    – Completed landscaping for a crisis nursery (most fulfilling ever!)
    – Feed Our Starving Children – this was probably my worst experience… we measured powders and dehydrated foods into bags and everything had to be ‘just so.’ They smelled awful and then the volunteer coordinators prayed over the food before shipping it off to Africa. I’ll probably never volunteer there again just because I didn’t like the rigid religious zeal and I didn’t like that the efforts weren’t staying local.
    – Operation Stand Down – Prepping and serving meals to homeless veterans and providing career resources and shelter referrals. This is something I’m greatly interested in repeating. It was really eye-opening to see ‘the homeless’ and hear their stories. People are just doing the best they can with what they have. It makes me wonder why there’s such a stigma (then I drive through Minneapolis and have people who look very scary and unstable and remember why there’s a stigma 🙁 )

  3. This is so wonderful! I truly wish I had the extra time right now. Graduate school & full-time work does not allow for “extra time”. In fact, what is time? lol 😛

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