Heavy Petting

Heavy Petting: What’s up, Doc?

Daily routines with the very best animal therapists

Happy New Year, Santa Fe! My name is Jack. I just moved to beautiful Santa Fe from my hometown of Los Angeles to become the new CEO for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.

I have to say, this town has welcomed me so warmly since my arrival in November. Not to diss my hometown, but it’s been my observation that people here are just nicer! When I go to the grocery store, the employees seem happy to see me, making conversation, and wishing me a great rest of the day. Just yesterday someone cut me off on the highway, and then waved an apology to me. Who does that? In LA, they’d cut you off and flip you the bird just for funsies. I’m just saying.

It’s not hard to see why everyone seems to be in a better mood here. I mean, look at the place! The air is clean, the views are spectacular from every angle. I kind of feel like I just extended my life expectancy by moving here—and I’m totally getting into it.

In this monthly column, I’m going to talk a lot about our animal friends. It’s my favorite thing to talk about, and I’m fortunate to have this platform to share my love and adoration for our furry companions and the hilarious and heartwarming things they do.

Every morning when I come to work, I walk through the kennels to say hello to the dogs; I make the same rounds every afternoon before lunch to say hello to our bunnies, hamsters and an assortment of other critters that have somehow found their way here.

I don’t know if you know this, but petting a bunny rabbit just before lunch is the perfect emotional palate cleanser. After petting a bunny, my lunch hour is automatically more enjoyable because it puts me in a more relaxed headspace.

I end my workday in the cat adoption kennels just outside my office where I engage in in-depth conversation about my day. I believe it’s important to debrief the day’s events with cats. Let me tell you why.

Cats have absolutely no interest in or tolerance for whining or complaints. Here’s an example of a conversation with Billiam (ID#A154937) to prove my point:

Me: “Today is just the worst. I was trying to write my column when the internet went out in my office. How am I supposed to write without internet access?”

Billiam: Blinks once and gets up, turning his back to me. (Translation: “Um, how are you this dumb? Did Hemingway need internet access to write? Seriously, get your life together.”)

Me: “OK, so maybe you have a point. Technically, I don’t need internet access to draw information from my own head to write about animals. But still, it really messes with my creative juju when I can’t occasionally watch a funny raccoon video on YouTube, is all I’m saying.”

Billiam: Meows once and buries his head. (Translation: “Don’t even get me started with your human privilege, dumb dumb. You can have tuna anytime you want. Like, for every meal even. Please stop talking; it’s harshing my catnip buzz.”)

Me: “You’re right. I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you Billy. Thank you for helping me see the error of my ways.”

And scene.

I have these rituals during my work day to help to remind me why the work we do at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter is so important.

OK, that’s a lie. I don’t really need to be reminded that the work we do here is important. I have these rituals because they’re fun.

Making my daily rounds is like therapy for me. Fun, interactive play therapy.

Sometimes though, like today, my rounds made me feel a little sad.

I was walking through the kennels and stopped by to say hello to my good friend, Princess (ID#A109207). I look forward to seeing her contagious smile every day. It’s one of the reasons we’ve become such good friends. In fact, she’s best buds with practically every person who works or volunteers here.

This morning though, it hit me why Princess has been able to build such a wonderful community of friends here: because she’s been here for such a long time. Too long.

Yeah, it’s great to have a lot of friends and people rallying around you to see to your care and enrichment. But living in a shelter isn’t much of a life. It’s stressful for all the animals who come here. So the longer they are here, the more friends they make, sure. But they’re not getting to actualize their best life in a real home.

So this morning, as I played with Princess, I started to get rather agitated at the whole thing.

“Why are you still here, Princess? Why?” I asked, genuinely trying to understand (and apparently assuming she had a reasonable answer).

She just looked at me smiling and wagging her tail like my verbal assault was the best conversation ever.

Oh, and Billiam? Why in Rue McClanahan’s name is he still here? He came to us in September and has been my trusted therapist for nearly a month now. Don’t get me wrong, I shouldn’t complain that I’m getting thousands of dollars’ worth of mental health benefits from his sage, albeit snarky, advice. But seriously, why?

I mean, this is the cat who has mastered the fine art of “smizing,” the ability to smile with one’s eyes. No one does it better. If he doesn’t get adopted soon, I’m enrolling him to teach a class on it at the Learning Annex.

As I said, shelters are a stressful place for animals to live. Many stay here longer than they should because the stress can manifest in ways that make it difficult to “show well” to prospective adopters. At first glance, they might seem to bark too much, or hide in fear in the back of a kennel where their personalities can’t shine.

My proposition to you is this: Take a moment to see beyond what you see at first glance when it comes to adopting a pet. You may be surprised at what great therapists these beautifully unique animals can be when they’re safe living with you in a happy home.

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