Thursday, June 2, 2011

Volunteering at the Oahu SPCA

Recently, I began a volunteer position at the Oahu SPCA. I knew I wanted to get some experience and get out there, but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it.  I contacted the SPCA after the Honolulu Pet Expo and they said they were happy to have me.

I will say, to get to the SPCA in Kapolei from downtown Honolulu, you have to make a day out of it, at least if you're traveling by bus. It's only about 18 miles away, but with all the traffic and all the stops in my area, it can take up to three hours one way to get there, and maybe an hour a half to return at the earliest. (I can take the C express coming home, but not going there, which means less stops on the way back.) I began my tenure on May 21st. The people there are just lovely, with Cyn, Candice and Marley really standing out and going out of their way to get you accustomed. In fact, I missed my orientation completely due to a late bus and getting on the wrong transfer. I was originally going to return June 10th (the next orientation), but once everyone realized how far I traveled, they let me learn from Candace. Staff immediately took note of my physical struggles and didn't want me to be injured taking care of a large dog. Old me would have gone to the dogs anyway, in spite of the risk of injuring myself. New me found it very, very hard to walk away from them. The solution is that I mostly work with cats, small dogs, puppies and kittens. The first few days, I worked with these guys:

Make no mistake, I enjoy all animals, but I am generally not a cat person. I don't dislike them, but I think I just find cats a big mystery. I can tell you what breed a dog is (or what he's mixed with) generally by looking at him. (in fact, this is a game the dad often plays with me. He'll point to the TV at a commerical or a show and say: "Katie what dog is that?") I can tell a dog is happy, sad, stressed or angry just by their expressions and body language. I'm generally not afraid of most dogs. (with the exception of a vicious dog I might encounter by chance that's bigger then me.)

Cats? Cats are another story. When I was five, we had a cat once. His name was Arthur and he was evil. I think there was something wrong with him, because he would generally "hunt" my brothers and I. He would sneak around corners to find us then pounce, scratch and bite us. We never provoked Arthur (we didn't dare). We were afraid to touch him. Eventually, I became anxious to walk around the living room, the hallway, the kitchen or anywhere Arthur might reside. One night while my then three year old brother was sleeping, Arthur snuck onto his bed and attacked his face.
The cat was out the door after that.

Naturally, we're all still weary of cats, and I know I have a bit of a cat phobia. Took me awhile to realize not all cats are Arthur. You can imagine how fast my heart raced when I walked into this:

Things I've learned about cats:
1) Their faces and body language are an open book to me.
2) I can't tell you what kind of cat any of them are.
3) (some) cats don't like being petted. (found THAT out the hard way)
4) Cats do NOT come when called.
5) Cats do what they want. (see 4)
6) Give a cat a giant cardboard box from Costco and he'll love ya.
7) Catnip is like cocaine.
8) Some cats are awesome and adore you. You just have to figure out which ones they are.

To do this, I entered the cat room with caution, sat in a chair, and waited for them to come to me. (I'd advise you to do this with any animal really, but especially with cats) Some ignored me. Some leered at me. Finally though, three cats came up to be rubbing themselves on my legs and purring in greeting as if to say "Welcome to the cat room." I cautiously petted one, who then jumped in my lap for more cuddles. Eventually, we graduated from petting to brushing, then I placed him on the floor, grabbed a cat wand, and began waving it around to see what he'd do. Turns out, what he did was have a grand old time chasing it, swatting it, pouncing on it, and biting it.

Soon the other cats joined in. Then I left Cat Room 2 (nicknamed "The Fat Cat room") and went to Cat Room 1, where the younger cats were. It was here that I met my favorite of all the cats.

This is Blue:
He's part Siamese, and he's been at the SPCA for awhile. I don't know why, because he really is such a friendly cat. Blue is pretty independent (perfect for people who don't work from home). He doesn't need much and loves to perch on a window sill most of the day. Once he has an audience though (like when I walked into the room) he'll show off for you. He also likes having his picture taken, so of course my camera came out.

Don't mind me. I'm talkin.

I also met Gin:

Gin's another love bug. All he wants is cuddles. He's a tiny cat, with some allergies, so you have to keep his nose and eyes clean. (which I was more then happy to assist with, and he was more then happy to wipe himself on my shirt) He's pretty shy though, so it was hard to get his face.

On Monday, I got to visit my true loves: DOGS! The second I walked into the kennels, I was home. My heart was broken with my dog Noah (long story on that one), but I fell in love all over again with the dog I was assigned to play with.

This is Teddy Bear. His name matches his personalty to a T.

He loves to play. And run. And jump. And bounce. I think he even did a flip for me when we wrestled with his toys. As far as I can tell, he doesn't know how to sit (he might be just anxious though). He does have excellent impulse control. (I hold the toy in my hand towards my chest, and he waits very patiently for me to throw it. I started off making him wait very briefly for the toy--only seconds because that's all he could handle--then rewarding him with praise when he didn't jump on me for it. We're slowly increasing the time. When he jumps or nips, I turn my back on him. He hates that, so he tries so hard to avoid it, bless his little heart. Unlike in Noah, there is no aggression what so ever in Teddy Bear. He wants to please you constantly. The hardest part of our sessions is the end, because Teddy Bear hates it when I leave. He tries to chase after me, he whines for me to return, and he even attempted to bolt out of the kennel after me. (I usually need a second person on hand to assist with Teddy Bear, just in case he gets out to follow me.) I usually try to not look back and tell myself that I'll be back to see him. Helps me get on the bus. If it were up to me, that little dog would be in my arms and on the next plane back to New Jersey with me, but I know now isn't the time for a dog in my life I also know realistically I don't have the energy to keep up with Teddy Bear. My goal is to get him adopted to the family he deserves before I go home.

And that's a little insight over what I've been doing lately. Working at the SPCA has been incredibly humbling and I'm inspired by the good they do. I know some Hawaii residents read my blog, so if you can help out in anyway, please call (808) 754-1519. We're open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 3pm if you want to check out any of the pets featured or are interested in adoption. For more information, go to


  1. Oh my goodness, those cats are SO cute. I hope they get adopted.

    I've never had a dog before, so if I walked into a room full of dogs, my heart would probably start pounding like crazy. Some of 'em are scary to me because they're so big and could easily take me down.

    If I were put in a room full of cats, though, I'd be right at home.

  2. Shannon, it's funny you mentioned it. Most dogs won't take you down. Most of them are afarid of you more then you are of them. (True story: My english masstiff Bailey used to hide behind me when a big scary human entered our house. I was 95 pounds. She was 150.)