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Pets Large & Small

Sometimes this job really gets to me

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(6/2012) Sometimes this job really gets to me. It makes my heart hurt how much I really wish the animals we care for could talk to us and understand language.

We had a Lhasa Apso mix here a few years ago who was just the dearest soul. He kissed absolutely everybody. He was young – maybe 10 months old – and just sweeter than punch.

He was perfect – and I mean perfect – to take to schools or visit with Scout troops. With the amount of children he smooched in this county, he should be engaged to practically every student in the district. Oh and he would ham it up for the kids by stretching out on the floor and I swear when the kids laughed, he knew they were getting a kick out of him and he’d roll around on purpose.

Tucker was such a love bug.

Well, it got to the point that because I had taken him so many places, he recognized me. It’s amazing how fast these animals become attached to the people who care for them. Sometimes even just a car ride will be enough to have the animals looking at me as though I’m their caretaker or savior.

When they appear worried, I tell them, "Nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re fine. No one’s gonna hurt you on my watch."

Way, way back when I first started here, we had two Shih Tzus – one brown and one black – who were brothers and I took them with me everywhere. When we were in a building, I didn’t even need a leash – they would just follow me. I’d tell them, "Boys I’m leaving are you coming with?" and they’d hop up from wherever they were to be tight on my heels.

Chewie and Gizmo were my boys (I still have pictures of them on my desk) and so was Tucker.

Tucker had learned to actually recognize my voice. Sometimes he spent his afternoons in the front office with the girls there and he loved it. He got to see the folks who came through to walk dogs or visit with cats or look for a new four-legged friend.

If I would come up to ask a question or get a paper or check on something, even if he couldn’t see me, he could hear me talking and would start whining and barking. At one point, Sara said to me, "Oh my word, would you pick him up. He wants to talk to you."

I came around the counter and snuggled him. That’s what he wanted.

Tucker got adopted on a Saturday. I remember hearing the news and truly, I was utterly overjoyed. I knew my boy wouldn’t have to spend time in a kennel anymore – that he would have a bed and a home and be loved.

But it was actually a real bittersweet moment.

I had to wonder, did Tucker understand? Did he wonder where I was? Did he wonder why he left the place with the nice people and the lady who would take him on car rides to visit children?

Did he understand that the shelter was only a temporary stop in his life? That the goal all along had been for him to leave with other people?

It’s difficult, saying goodbye. For as much as adoptions are our goal, we become incredibly attached to the animals in our care and sometimes, goodbye is the toughest thing we have to say.

I wish animals could talk. I wish they could understand that they’re leaving the shelter, not because we don’t love them – indeed, it’s because we love them so much. I wish they could know – really know – that we only want what’s best for them.

Sometimes it feels like this job does the exact opposite of what it should. We care for these animals, fall in love with these animals, and yet they only spend a little bit of time in our lives. We prepare them to be best friends for someone else.

It really can be incredibly hard to open your arms and let them go.

And yet we keep going because we know there are more Tuckers and Chewies and Gizmos out there who need our help, who need people to care for them during their transition in life, who need people to be there for them when no one else will.

Maybe we only get a few weeks with them or even a month or so, but I like to think that those moments count, that they mean something. I like to think that they meant something to Tucker, too.

It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right?

I’ll remember those brown eyes and happy kisses of Tucker’s for a long time – and I hope with all my heart that my boy will be happy and loved for the rest of his life, even though he's living it without me.

As much as it hurts, sometimes goodbye is truly said with absolute love.

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