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Pets Large & Small

Saving just one makes it all worth while

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(10/2011) She’s tired. So incredibly tired. She’s reminded of a line from St. Elmo’s Fire – for all the fans of the 80s brat pack movies – "I never thought I’d be so tired at 22."

She laughs, knowing she’s got 16 years on Demi Moore’s character, but she understands the sentiment just the same.

Some days are tougher than others, but there are happy moments. Times when she sees the beauty of life and the goodness that is out there. She notices when people are decent and it gives her some hope for the future.

She loves to make people laugh and "leave on a high note," ala George Costanza of Seinfeld fame. She clearly watches too much television, but the avenue of escape is a good one for her. And sometimes, a movie or TV reference provides a connection, a moment of shared understanding, with others.

But the dark times, the ones where all hope seems lost, are difficult. So she struggles.

She knows that part of it is because she’s too involved. She worries too much, becomes too attached, but she really doesn’t know how to be anything else. She’s never been very good at forgetting her feelings or ignoring what her instincts tell her.

She's too sensitive and she recognizes this, and she thinks of yet another television character, Spock, and the purity of Vulcan logic and lack of emotions. She wonders at the freedom in that, in approaching life in a calm, rational manner and how different she would be if her blood ran green and her ears came to a point.

But she's not Vulcan, she's human, and the feelings that come with that can be staggering.

The issue really lies with them. The four-legged furry ones who come in and out of her life with somewhat alarming regularity and her ability to truly see them and what they bring to the world.

The faces and the eyes and the stories all start to loop together, blend into "we had a cat come in who…." or "one dog was dropped off because…."

If she could see them as some people do – as commodities, as "just a dog," as creatures incapable of feeling – it would all probably be better. But there’s simply no way she can look into the eyes of a forgotten dog or discarded cat and see anything but a soul who can feel pain and love and anger, in need of help and a second chance.

Such is her way.

But it hurts. It hurts to know they have to live in kennels because sometimes people just don’t have enough stamina to keep going, keep trying. It hurts to know that some of them came from situations where they barely had enough food to survive. It hurts to know that some of them came from places where they had to live in their own feces because no one cared enough to clean. It hurts to know that some of them have experienced an angry kick or punch and had to live in fear and she knows, deep in her gut, that no one – human or animal – should ever have to live like that. Ever.

And there are so many animals who need help and homes. So, so many. Each year the numbers increase and she has to wonder if anything she does has any impact at all. Are people even listening? Do they even care? Are her efforts making any kind of difference? The numbers say no.

Thus, she’s tired.

Continuous battle weighs anyone down and eventually, when the hits keep coming and coming and it feels like there's no end in sight, it gets a little harder each time to get back up again.

So, is that a reason to give up? Find something else? Walk out the doors to another chapter in her life? Stock shelves some place where she can’t get emotionally invested? Process data in a job where it's all about numbers and not feelings? Is giving up really an option?

She walks by a cage and a sleepy kitten wakes up slightly, blinks his eyes at her and gives a soft meow. His little paws stretch and separate and his claws extend and his tongue curls in a yawn -- a picture of drowsy contentment.

She wonders what he’s trying to say.

Maybe I need a home.

Or I wish the person who brought me here would have given me just a little more time.

Or, life on the streets was tough, but at least I'm warm and fed and loved here.

Or, quite possibly, just maybe, his little noise really means, Thank you for trying to help me.

A warm sensation spreads through her chest and in a moment of clarity, she has her answer.

Giving up is not an option.

So, she goes to sleep that night with the furry faces in her mind, giving kisses to her own feline four-legged kids who share her pillow and her comforter, knowing that it’s all going to start over again the next day. She also knows that saving just one of them will make the exhaustion and tired feelings worth it because it’s not about her. She knows her work at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter has never been about her.

It’s about them.

And she is me.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in 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

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau