Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Pets Large & Small

A Four-legged Calling

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

Alan would have something really to look up for if
he had a home!

Who says you can't find true love on the Internet!

Alan is a handsome, 2-year-old brown tabby who has a really friendly face.
This guy loves being petted and a little canned cat food as a treat, but
he's not too crazy about other cats. He'd prefer to be the king of the
house. He's been at a shelter since February 1, 2010 -- it's been more
than a year! Please help him out!!

To learn more about Alan call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

(4/12) When I was a kid, I remember watching an episode of Facts of Life (still love that show, btw -- the 80's may have been an embarrassing decade, but the nostalgia will never get old for me) where Blair's step-sister Meg (played by Eve Plumb of the Brady Bunch fame) came for a visit to tell Blair she wanted to be a nun.

She said she had a calling and I remember being so confused when I first saw this. I didn't get it. A calling? What in the world was that? I remember thinking, how would you know for sure? How could you devote your entire life to something like that?

Well, as a kid, attention spans are pretty close to nil and there were always other things going on in my life -- homework, Atari, playing little cars with my siblings, trips to Boyer's with my aunt and grandma, family dinners -- so I didn't dwell too long on the plot of that episode. As the years passed, I moved on to endeavors in my own life from teaching to being a tour guide to working at a newspaper to a host of other activities.

And then I found the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter.

We had always had animals growing up -- living in the country it was practically a given. Dogs named after Star Trek characters (anyone remember Tribbles? My dad was a trekkie of old), cats and kittens who my sister can track the lineage of to this day.

I remember my first day at the shelter being so distracted by the barking in the kennels. It was a noise I certainly wasn't used to hearing while at work. Eventually, I got assimilated into the place and started to hear the stories.

When I heard that a woman had returned a dog because he "didn't match her couch" or a woman couldn't handle a kitten because he "messed up her hair," I couldn't believe it. It had to be a joke.

Nope. The reasons were written in ink on the paperwork. Unbelievable. It seems backwards, but working at an animal shelter really gives you a remarkable insight into what people are capable of and that's what I had started to learn.

I also started to see how quickly the animals recognize who we are as staff members at the animal shelter. Dogs would look to me for comfort if they were unsure or even just if they needed a familiar face. Cats would hear my voice and respond with a purr or soft meow.

I'm not married and I don't have children, so it was a novel feeling for me to experience that kind of connection. Here was another life reaching out to me for comfort and reassurance. When I would take animals out of the shelter with me to help them find homes, I started saying out loud to them, "Don't worry, baby, nothing's going to happen to you on my watch."

And you better believe I make sure of that to this day. It's a powerful emotion to have the welfare of an animal in your hands.

This is a job that can be remarkably frustrating, though. We get phone calls where people tell us if we don't take their dog, they'll shoot him when they get home. Or those who need to surrender their Saint Bernard because he outgrew their house.

I'll never forget the day when I had simply had it. The stress was too high, dealing with people was just too much and I said to myself, "This is it. I'm done. I'm going to quit."

Oh I was fired up. I can't even really remember what the circumstances were that had torqued me so badly, but I went stomping out the back to my car, determined to put this place behind me.

Well, it just so happens that in order to leave through the back, I had to walk right past the dogs in our isolation kennels. The last cage is literally beside the back door.

I was huffing and puffing and mumbling to myself (I learned that from my mom) and as I reached the door, I saw him. The little dog who had just come into the shelter -- I can't remember why -- in the last kennel by the door. He looked up at me and his big brown eyes were so scared, so uncertain, so upset.

And it hit me like a literal punch to the gut.

This wasn't about me. My job, my career, wasn't really mine. Dealing with the people, fighting with the ridiculousness, coming to work every day, talking about the shelter to anyone who will listen had absolutely nothing to do with me.

It's for them.

I realized in that second, that moment in time, that for the first time in my life, I had a reason beyond myself to get up in the morning.

When my alarm goes (and I hit the snooze button a few times because, quite frankly, I'm not a "jump out of the bed" kind of person), I know that I will go through my day not for me, but to make the world a little better for the animals in our kennels. I like to joke that I have almost one hundred four-legged bosses on any given day.

Our motto at CVAS is "the animals have no voice but ours" and I know, after almost ten years of shelter work, that I will continue to speak for them until I can't draw a breath to form words anymore.

I now know what Blair's step-sister was talking about from that Facts of Life episode all those years ago.

I have found my calling.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa., 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 thrift stores in Chambersburg and Shippensburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the stores.

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau