Monday, 29 May 2017

Guest Post: Why Author Janis Flores Walks Shelter Dogs…

Animals are near and dear to my heart. During 2007 and 2008, I had the privilege of working at our local animal shelter. From this experience I got the idea to write Lost and Found, Book One of my young adult teen psychic series, Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls. It was through my love of animals that I met fellow author and kindred spirit, Janis Flores, who I found loves our furry friends just as much as me. Janis has had some wonderful experiences, especially with shelter dogs, and I asked her if she’d be so kind as to share them with you. Take it away, Janis…

Eight years ago, I walked into our local animal shelter and changed my life forever.  It wasn’t easy. In fact, volunteering to walk shelter dogs was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I know that will probably sound silly to a lot of people: after all, what’s the big deal about walking dogs? Put a leash on and go.

For me, it wasn’t that simple. Blessed (or cursed) with a writer’s super-active imagination, I didn’t know what would be waiting behind the reception desk, locked away out of sight of the public. I pictured rows of dogs in wire kennels, unloved, unwanted, dropped off by owners who abdicated responsibility because the dog was sick, or old, or injured, or ill-mannered, or just something to be thrown away because it was, after all, only a dog.

I’ll admit it: I was anxious—scared that I’d make a fool of myself by bursting into tears as soon as I saw the dogs; sure that I wouldn’t be able to turn away from all those sad faces, begging for rescue.  I was positive I’d have nightmares about frightened and confused dogs, who didn’t understand what had happened to them, or why.

Then I saw a poster that made me feel like a coward, writing checks to assuage my conscience, donating money instead of time so I wouldn’t have to see what I didn’t want to know. The poster showed a dirty, skinny little dog with a huge chain hanging from a studded collar around a neck that looked too frail to hold it up. I couldn’t look away from the depth of pain and hopelessness I saw in that dog’s eyes. The caption under the picture read:
You might not be able to help all the lost dogs in the world, but you can help the one in front of you.

That day I walked into the shelter and volunteered to walk the dogs.

Things have changed at the shelter where I volunteer as a dog walker. It now has a Behavior and Training Department, whose members evaluate the dogs that come in to determine if they have any medical and/or behavior problems before advancing them to the adoption floor. But when I first started, it was just me, the dogs, and a slip lead (For those who don’t know what a slip lead is, it’s a long piece of material about half an inch wide with a metal “D” ring at one end. To use it, you thread the end through the ring, forming a circle that substitutes as a collar. The “slip” of the lead means that it can be adjusted to any size dog).  In those early days, I quickly learned that it wasn’t so simple as: put on a leash and go.

I chose to work with the clinic/hospital dogs instead of those already up for adoption because they seemed to be most in need of help and attention. They didn’t know where they were, or why their family had left them behind in a strange place.  I wasn’t a familiar face, but I could be a helping hand, letting them know—for the brief time I was there on my volunteer day—that they weren’t alone.

It was an experiment for both of us. In those early days, I had no way of knowing when I entered a kennel what I was about to face. Some dogs “shut down” in depression and turned away; others became aggressive because they were uncertain and scared. But most were so glad to see me that they almost vibrated with excitement.  A leash, a leash, we’re going for a walk! I could see it in their faces, and it makes me smile every time.  Their joy at such a simple act almost makes me forget why they are here. Almost.

It was a shock to learn that only a minority of the shelter dogs are strays (at least in our shelter); the majority have been brought in by owners with various excuses about why they can’t keep the dog any longer. But one justification I’ll never understand, is “We just don’t want him anymore.”

How can you not want a dog who has been a faithful family member for years? How can you throw him away for someone else to take care of just because he has silver around the muzzle, or cataracts in his eyes, or limbs crippled with arthritis? To see such a dog watching his former family walking away without looking back is simply gut-wrenching.

I always pay special attention to these old dogs. The look in their eyes just breaks my heart.
On a brighter note, here are some of the special dogs I’ve met at the shelter:

HOLLY: (so named because she was found in a parking lot at Christmas). We never knew what happened to this white, bright-eyed little Maltese cross—whether it was abuse, or being hit by a car—that caused paralysis in both hind legs. I admit to mixed emotions when they fitted her with a canine version of a wheelchair. It seemed so unnatural to me. But when I saw Holly’s joy at being able to race around—sometimes on one wheel—I had to admit that, for her, it was the right prescription.

 LEO: a small boxer cross that came from Mexico with what appeared at first to be a tumor the size of a small grapefruit under his chin. I won’t go into the medical details this dog suffered; suffice to say he became one of the most loved because of his resilience, determination, and sheer refusal to lose to a deadly disease.

STEVIE: a black, blind terrier cross with eyes that looked like silver coins. He was found wandering on a busy thoroughfare. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed. The shelter vet reluctantly determined that it was too late to restore his vision, but he didn’t let his blindness stop him. Whenever he heard the jingle of a harness and a leash, he whirled in circles, eager to go outside for a walk.

CHANCE: a beautiful 25-pound American Eskimo, with the blackest eyes and a blindingly white coat (once he’d had a bath to wash away the street grime). He had many physical problems, but he didn’t let that stop him. Sometimes he just wanted to sit with my arm around him while we watched the world go by.

FLOWER: an abused pit bull with so much potential. Black with a little white on her chest; eyes gleaming with intelligence. We worked hard getting her aggression under control so she could be adopted, only to have her returned in a semi-crazed state with no explanation about what had happened. Despite our best efforts, she quickly developed “shelter stress”, and even though it was the best thing for her, it was a sad day for us all when she was put down. Such a loss for a dog who had tried so hard.

ABBIE: an extremely shy Aussie, with a beautiful “Autumn” coat. She would retreat to the opposite of her kennel and shake when anyone tried to get near her, but with a lot of patience we brought her out of her shell and into a new life.

BRIE: another Aussie. She had to have her front leg amputated because her owner left a home-made, too-tight bandage on and left it on too long, destroying the circulation in that leg. She was a brave and uncomplaining girl who just wanted to be loved. That’s what we gave her—until her new family came along, fell in love, and adopted her.

There are so many more that I could go on and on. They pass through my mind like a fancy shuffle, with the cards falling in a waterfall, moving so fast I can’t see the faces. But I know they were there, and I believe I did my own small part in helping them. What they did for me—and continue to do—is more than I can say.

Janis Flores was born in Montana, and raised in Colorado and California. After graduating from college, she received her license in Medical Technology, married Ray Flores, and they moved to northern California—she to supervise a laboratory, he to establish his horseshoeing business. She found time to take a class on the short story, but instead wrote her first book—a Gothic suspense titled HAWKSHEAD, which was subsequently published in hardcover by (then) Doubleday and company. Thirty-four novels—from historical to contemporary mainstream—followed.

You can find Jan on her website:
On Twitter: @JanisOFlores


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa! Appreciate it!

  2. Replies
    1. It sure is, Susan! Volunteering is so important for animal shelters, for both humans and animals. Cheers and thank you for swinging by!

  3. I have only the highest respect and admiration for anyone who works to help our furry friends.Lovely blog!

    1. I do too, Carol! They're truly unsung heroes! Cheers and thanks!