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Portrait of Volunteering

From the SPA

By Kate Bronislawski

My husband and I arrived in San Miguel eight months ago for rest and recuperation. We had been traveling nonstop for almost three years—a new city or country every few weeks. This much freedom is both exhilarating and exhausting. We needed to stay put for a while to create a weekly routine, to make new friends, to find some way to be useful to others, to have fun, to do some good. We found all of that volunteering at the SPA.

I’ve been walking the dogs and playing with the puppies several times a week; my husband spends time with the cats. We thought of this, at first, as “helping out.” But we quickly found that we needed them as much as they needed us. At first, they were an overwhelming bunch of animals we could scarcely keep straight; they quickly became individuals with specific backstories (some lucky, some heartbreaking), personality quirks, and different needs.

We became interested in all of them; some of them we adore. In late July, a new dog arrived on my day off. I thought at first that her kennel was empty, then realized that a small, grubby, worried, and wary dog was sitting in the back, as far away from the door of her kennel as possible. This was Chata, a terrier mix who had been handed around from owner to owner, finally landing at the SPA, where she found security and kindness and also had a good bath. Today Chata is a happy and energetic golden-blonde sweetheart with black eyes and nose, a kisser and a cuddler, delighted to meet new people. Two months of care at the SPA, and she’s ready for a real home.

It’s difficult sometimes to start off with Nellie on her daily walk. Unhappy with the cacophony of barking dogs, clanging metal doors, and the truck traffic outside of the shelter door, she sometimes hesitates. But once out in the field next to the shelter, Nellie becomes The Dog Who Walks, willing to explore every trail and even bushwhack through the tall grass to see what’s on the other side. If you enjoy long strolls around your neighborhood, weekend hiking, or, indeed, if you’re planning to walk the Pacific Crest Trail and you need a friend, Nellie is your gal.

My husband and I began our travels again in October, and we won’t be back to San Miguel until next summer. The SPA, always in need of volunteers, will be reduced by two. If you can’t adopt a cat or dog, then please come to the SPA and “help out.” The cats and dogs need you, and you need them, probably far more than you imagine. Volunteer hours are Monday–Saturday, 11am–2pm, at Los Pinos 7, 152 6124.


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