Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Can something as simple as courage aid animal healing?

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. —Anais Nin

Some of my most difficult sleepless nights have been spent attempting to follow the Reiki precept “do not worry.” But as I have since discovered, this Reiki precept actually inspires us to find our courage.

It’s not easy to let go of worry when something is wrong with an animal we love. But fear does not serve animals well at all. When we live in fear, life becomes very small, as our thoughts focus on what is “wrong” It’s like a microscope that focuses in on worst-case scenarios and what might happen. And then we start going through many negative possibilities in our minds. Animals will often mirror our fear, becoming fearful or taking on neurotic habits. We all want to help our animals, but our fear gets in the way.

When we are afraid, it’s hard to connect to our animals because we build a wall around ourselves. Sometimes this wall is the fear itself causing us to withdraw, but sometimes this wall has a different label. We try to justify our fear by surrounding ourselves with “protection”—but in reality we are simply highlighting and nurturing our separation from the very animals we want to help. How can we truly connect if we are putting all of our energy into walls?

On the other hand, when we practice courage, we can expand beyond the limitations of fear. I find meditating with the Reiki precept “do not worry” to be very helpful with this. In meditating on this precept, I find my thoughts coming to rest in the space of courage. With courage, we face and walk through our fears to the space beyond them. Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid; it just means that we are going to “lean into” our fear, rather than try to avoid it.

Practicing courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid.

Let’s take the example of volunteering Reiki with shelter or sanctuary animals. We might be afraid to do this for many reasons. We might be afraid that we may see and/or hear an animal suffering. Maybe we are afraid we will want to take every single animal home with us. These fears may cause us to avoid shelter volunteering altogether. If we stay in that space of fear, then the shelter itself can become a monster in our minds.

On the other hand, if we push through that fear and go into the shelter, we can see many positive benefits: We can support animals to find stress relief and healing through our Reiki sessions; we can support the staff and other human caretakers through Reiki as well, so they can help the animals from a much better space (as we know, caregiver burnout is so high in shelters); we can also meet the animals one on one. In making personal connections with each animal, we will see courage in action: an abandoned cat that still loves people, an abused dog that is gentle and trusting, or a traumatized horse that seeks out human kindness.

In seeing the gratitude and peaceful responses of the animals, we can experience the healing power of love and compassion firsthand. By acting with courage, even when we are afraid, the shelter or sanctuary becomes a healing place that we look forward to going to, and fear loses its power.

What fears have you faced to help animals?

4 questions to guarantee happy volunteering

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a dream come true for so many of us. But just like any job, the first shelter you come across may not be the right fit for you. Due to the time commitments involved and the level of devotion required by volunteering, it’s important to find the right “match” ahead of time to ensure the best experience possible.

With that in mind, here are four vital questions to ask the shelter (and yourself!) in order to guarantee the happiest experience possible:

1. Is it a no-kill shelter? If not, are you comfortable working with animals that may have to be euthanized? Are you comfortable being present with these animals, perhaps at the time of transition? It’s important to let the volunteer coordinator know your comfort level with discussions surrounding euthanasia at the shelter where you volunteer. It can prevent an uncomfortable or emotionally charged discussion at a later date.

2. Will they require you to complete a training program? If so, how long is the program, and what are the requirements? Once you have completed the program, what minimum hours per week will you be required to volunteer, and how long-term of a commitment do they expect? (Some shelters require at least a year.) What duties will you be expected to assist with? What percentage of your time will you be able to devote solely to the tasks that interest you the most?

3. Which staff member will you report to directly? Which person will be involved in helping you with the animals or giving information about which animals to work with? Will this person be notified of your volunteer role at the shelter? If not, make sure to introduce yourself to the staff and volunteers when you meet.

4. Are you prepared to handle the ups and downs? Volunteering at an animal shelter has its magical moments—the first time you bond with a cat that hides from everyone else, the older dog who finally finds her forever home—but there will be plenty of heartbreak as well. Ask yourself how you will cope when you witness innocent animals recovering from abusive situations, see cats and dogs suffering and in pain, know that the animals “no one wants” are being euthanized, or even miss your favorite animal once he or she is adopted? Unfortunately, those who dedicate their lives to caring for others (human or animal) must watch out for compassion fatigue, a traumatic stress disorder and occupational hazard for shelter volunteers which I wrote more about here.

What questions do you always ask before volunteering at an animal shelter?

{Adapted from The Animal Reiki Handbook: Finding Your Way With Reiki in Your Local Shelter, Sanctuary or Rescue by Kathleen Prasad}