She’s worked at her job for almost 18 years. Some days, it’s great. She’s happy. She laughs. Feels she made the right decision all those years ago. She’s making a difference. Getting people to think. Maybe she has just a little something to do with saving lives.

Some days, it’s not so great. Some days she comes face-to-face with the true nature of human beings, and it scares her. Absolutely terrifies her.

People who deliberately starve an animal. People who throw dogs out of moving vehicles. People who set kittens on fire just to see what will happen.

She wonders if there really is any way to fight that kind of apathy and indifference. It’s the closest she’s ever come to witnessing evil. And she wonders if it can ever actually be stopped. If the battle will ever truly be won.

Some nights, she wonders if she’ll ever really know the price of this job to her soul. Why has she stayed so long? What is the actual cost of dedication?

But there are always the animals. They say animal shelters, rescue organizations, veterinarians tend to attract the animal-lovers. And for the most part it’s true.

Some days she’ll watch a kitten chase a pen across a desk and smile. She’ll see a puppy wag his tail and bounce around for attention, and it will warm a cold place inside her. She’ll look into the eyes of an animal who has no one at all and she’ll think for a minute, at that second in time, she discovers what is truly good in the world: a creature who knows only love, hope and resilience.

And it gives her the strength to get up the next day when the alarm goes off.

But knowing this – seeing the gift animals can bring – only makes the bad days that much tougher.

Some days she wants to scream. Let out all the rage, helplessness, anger, powerlessness that has accumulated in almost 18 years. Stand outside and just shriek. As loud as possible. She doesn’t, though.

There isn’t a spot around where no one could hear. Instead, she turns up the radio in the car and sings along. Sometimes deliberately chooses the raucous CDs. The ones that make her father wince. Some days she needs the bass, the angry lyrics. Like a scream set to music.

Some days, stories from the shelter overwhelm her. Someone brought a kitten back to the shelter because he meowed too much. Someone returned a puppy after only a month with him because the dog “couldn’t be house trained.” Someone made the statement: “If you don’t take my dog, I’m going to shoot it when I get home tonight.”

People discard the only beings on the planet capable of unconditional love with no more thought than one would give to draining the dishwater.

And she can’t help but wonder why. Why would people do this? What would it take? For rare moments, she thinks it might be interesting to see inside their heads. To truly understand what it means to really not care. The curious part of her, the portion of her mind that seeks knowledge, that wants to take apart electronic equipment just to see how it works, thinks it could be like a scientific experiment. What’s it like to go through life unable or unwilling to see the soul of an animal?

But curiosity gives way to better judgment. Because she thinks looking into the heart of that kind of darkness – actually seeing it, knowing it, being there – would be too much. It might taint the rare glimpses of beauty she sees.

And there are beautiful moments.

She cries at stories of animals saving people. Shepherds who dig through rubble in search of injured humans. Service dogs who save the lives of a person suffering from seizures. She’s moved by seeing animals show more compassion than some people she’s known. She can’t watch more than 5 minutes of Animal Planet without tearing up and she calls herself a goofball, a sucker, an idiot. But, still, the stories touch her.

She walks into the adoption kennels, and feels a tiny kitten rub his nose against her outstretched finger or lets a puppy lick her face and she wishes she had an ounce of talent to paint or describe the feelings inside her that these moments create. But, she’s not sure she could do it justice anyway, so she doesn’t

try. Just keeps it inside. Treasures the poignancy, the sensations.

She sees the photographs of happy animals who’ve been adopted from the shelter. Animals surrounded by nice homes, good food, warm beds, love. And she likes to think that some of what she does – some of her work – has resulted in animals being freed from a cage and brought into someone’s heart.

Some days it’s all that keeps her going. The belief that the kitten, cat, dog, puppy in her arms has a chance. That the day will come when she gives him one final kiss and hands him over to his new family, hoping that they will give him the love he deserves for the rest of his life. She tells the four-legged little bundle in her arms to always remember that for a moment, he gave a jaded, cynical, weary shelter worker what she needed to keep going.

And she hopes that somehow he understands the true value of his gift.

She works at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter.

She is me.



Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, and can be reached at: The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at: (717) 263-5791, or visit the website: CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.


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