Au Revoir, Mes Chats…Kind Of: The End of My Six-Month Experience As A Cat Volunteer at the SPCA

When a 2-month old kitten decides to take a nap on you, you clear your schedule.

I remember someone asking the question “What is the hardest part about volunteering?” when I went to the info session at the San Francisco SPCA in January. The mentor smiled and frowned at the same time: “The most difficult part is having your heartstrings tucked.”

At the time I rolled my eyes and thought “Yeesh, what is this? A cheesy romantic comedy?” (Which I love, BTW) But after 6 months of volunteering at the animal shelter almost every weekend, I now know what it meant.

Face of a heartbreaker.

Cats obviously can’t talk but they communicate plenty. The look of sheer sadness in a shelter cat’s eyes when I have to leave its condo after petting and playing with it for 15 minutes says “I don’t understand why you have to go. Please stay. ” Understand that this pet most likely has been through a lot- whether its owner passed away, or it was abandoned or lost, and it is suddenly in an unfamiliar environment. The staff at SPCA are the most wonderful people but they can’t spend all of their time with the dogs and cats because there are other important tasks to do for the well-being of these animals. The animals at the shelter may sometimes only get one chance of proper human affection and playtime per day. When I went to visit the hospital shelter cats, many of them get so excited about the opportunity of human contact that they start climbing the cages or crying loudly.

Praying for someone great to adopt him.

I remember vividly a few months ago, I went in a room to visit a cat that I had not seen around before. It was a white adult cat but it was so small and thin that I thought it was a kitten at first. I sat down and held out my hand. When it got up and came to, I saw its hind legs- the fur was shaven for stitches from surgery. I immediately started crying and I couldn’t stop for a long time.* The thought of the cat being hurt somewhere on the street because its owner wasn’t responsible enough to take care of it properly really, really upset me. I told the cat that it was not his fault at all and that he will get adopted soon by someone much better, and hoped that I was able to deliver that message with the tone of my voice and the warmth of my palm.

You know those photoshoots with supermodels wearing very plain stuff? This is the cat version.

The funny thing is that as much as the shelter cats need the volunteers, the reverse is also true. I learned through chatting that some volunteers come because they are mourning their own pets who recent passed away, or they were recently laid off and having a hard time. For me, it was quite therapeutic sometimes.

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Sweet Nothings I Say to Shelter Cats That Can Also Be Pick-Up Lines

Hey baby. I’m sure you get this a lot, but you have gorgeous eyes.

Hey kitty. How you doin’ today?

Your hair is so beautiful. May I touch it?

It’s not you; it’s him. You did nothing wrong. You’re still so great, and you deserve someone better. *lean in*

Hey girl. Looks like you’re having fun. Can I play with chu?

You like this? Well then, come over here and get it.

Oh god. You’re just so adorable right now. I can’t even handle it.

Has anyone told you how perfect you are? You’re so soft.

Not any worse than what I’ve heard. Wait, actually- guys HAVE said some of these lines to me before.



How To Befriend A Cat: Chronicle of A Noob Cat Volunteer

SO LEGIT. No I didn’t get to choose which cat photo but I’m glad I have this one.

(A “noob” is a derivation from the gamer elite/l33t speak term “N00b” which means newbie with a negative connotation. To find out why and how I started volunteering, please read entry “My Happiness Project: Cats.”)

Not to sound cocky or anything, but I really thought I knew how to get any domesticated cat to warm up to me before attending the “Intro Into Cat Socializing” training session at the SF SPCA. So wrong!

I was privy to being able to enter two cats’ chambers this weekend. One immediately came to nudge me and we had some quality petting, playing, and being adorable time, so I thought “’Aight- I got this. No prob.” It was completely the opposite with the next cat.

The interactions I had with this certain orange feline dude can be best described as the most awkward and pathetic blind first date ever. I went in while he was chilling on his sofa bed in a lounging pose that looked effortless, yet somehow was showing off all his assets.  He gave me a nonchalant look then directed his gaze elsewhere. I followed the instructions that I was just taught, sat down and started talking to him gently: “Um hey, how’s it going?” No answer, no movement. “Looks like you’re kind of tired, eh?” Slight turn of head then nothing. I even tried my secret weapon of meowing, hoping that it will solicit some sort of response. Nope. This silent cold treatment went on for 10 minutes, after which I ran out of monologue material and said “Well, guess I’ll see you later” in a fake cheerful tone and slipped out.

Like human beings, individual cats have different personalities. Some are shy, some are friendly, while some are hardened and jaded. Here are some tips about befriending them: Continue reading

My Happiness Project: Cats

Somehow I befriend cats anywhere. This was in Turkey.

Today I did two things: finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and finally had the chance to go to the volunteer info session at the San Francisco SPCA.

I highly recommend The Happiness Project as a person who does not believe in the traditional self-help books. I think they’re full of really generic ideas since they have to appeal to the masses. This book is different. It is practical and realistic.

Similar to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert which is also a favorite of mine, the book is about a chronicle of a woman trying to be happier within a year. Not everyone can afford trips around the world or be offered to do it for work like Elizabeth. In Gretchen’s own words, she set out to change her life without “really” changing her life. Using philosophies and advice from famed authors, historical figures, friends, and more, Gretchen examined how we can aim to accomplish every day happiness in an empirical manner, complete with charts and lists of resolutions.

I won’t ruin the book for you but here are the key takeaways that echo with me (some are direct quotes while others are paraphrasing):

  • What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while
  • Enjoy the process, and be in the present.
  • You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
  • It takes work to be happy, but it’s totally worth the effort.
  • You’re the sole person most influential to your level of happiness.

Some people may think that trying to make yourself happier is not a very noble goal, and Gretchen addresses this issue, too. Happiness is an marvelous cycle and it’s highly contagious. Two examples: One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. AND the reverse is also true- the best way to make those around you happy is to be happy yourself. In addition, happier people help others more whether through volunteering or making donations, or something else.

No I’m not depressed or anything, but can’t we all be even happier? A piano master still practices every day even after she wins awards. Lastly, you shouldn’t wait for when terrible things happen to learn about trying to be happier. Knowing what makes you happy and how to do it is like insurance for when things get bad.

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