| Richie DePaoli

A Foreign but Friendly Atmosphere

I had never had a job before and I’ve only volunteered at one place during my early years of high school. It was about five years ago and I was living in northern Michigan. We had just moved there and I had a whole summer to kill before my next year of high school started.

            A lot of my time was spent hanging out with my cousin, who we were living with at the time, and he was obsessed with animals. He would study anything from fish and insects to mammals and common household pets. Toward the beginning of the summer he had applied to volunteer at his local animal shelter, the Menominee Animal Shelter which left me alone in the house most days, so after a couple weeks I thought it would be a good idea to apply myself.

            They were quick to say yes as they needed more people. I was thrown in the next day with my cousin training me on what to do. Our jobs consisted of the main chores that needed to be done on a daily basis which included sweeping the floors, taking the garbage out, washing the animal cages, and washing the kennels that customers borrowed. However, on days where we finished early enough, my favorite part was being able to give the pets all baths.

            Some of the pets liked getting bathed more than others did. Needless to say not a lot of cats liked the water, and there were quite a few dogs who could not stay still for one, but they were all friendly. It took about a month for all the animals to get used to me bathing them and for me to get used to their behaviors. This was until one morning when I came in at about seven in the morning.

            When I went to go wash the kennels, I noticed a new tag that was on a previously empty kennel. I asked my boss about it and she said we had gotten a new cat they found on the street and that I had to give him a bath that morning. When I walked up to the cage and looked inside, he was one of the most adorable cats I had ever seen. He was mostly black with some white stripes lining his body and white paws and his name was Oscar. He was about one or two years old and had a very timid look on his face that was complimented by his big brown eyes.

            When I got closer to the cage he backed away and let out a meow. It wasn’t an angry meow or a hiss, but more of a nervous one. Instead of just diving in and pulling him out, I opened the cage and slowly moved my hand inside the cage with some food in my palm. He was nervous at first but accepted the food and even licked my hand afterward, which then made it easier to pet him. He lightened up to me pretty quickly although I could tell he was still nervous because of the new environment. I picked him up and we went in a separate room where they had a big sink to wash the cats inside.

            Oscar trusted me the whole time and never tried to leave once. That was the moment that I fell in love with that cat and to this day I still remember him. His bath must have been twice as long as the other animals’ baths that day because he was so friendly. When I began to scrub him with soap with my hands, he started purring immediately. Everywhere I scrubbed he would move so he could get a nice scratch and massage. When I rinsed him and dried him off, I picked him up and he licked my face, and it was at that moment that I knew that cat and I were going to be pals through the rest of this summer, and we surely did.

            He stayed at the animal shelter till the day that I quit and started my school year (it was a no-kill shelter, so I knew he would go to a good home). Of course I had bonds with the other animals, but none like the one I had with Oscar. Every day as soon as I walked in, he would be roaming around and come right up to me and started rubbing against my leg till I picked him up, then he would start licking my face. We would spend the whole day there together. He would follow me all over.

            Eventually my cousin and I decided that he would take the dog chores and I would take the cat chores so that Oscar and I could always hang out. He would follow me into every room and stick right by my side with whatever I was cleaning. When I washed the kennels he would jump up on top and lay above me and watch.

            That was the closest bond I have had with an animal that wasn’t one of my own. He made that whole experience of volunteering worth it.