By Bob Shimotakahara
Back home in Toronto, it’s chilly (-8° C) and snowy. But I’m here at the SPA in the sunshine and warmth, just another day in paradise. I fill out short paperwork, and Harry greets me. “Let me show you around,” he says. I am now a newly minted volunteer dog walker.
Harry takes me into the yard where the dogs are housed. I am pleasantly surprised by the ample space they are each afforded. The dogs are excited in anticipation of their walks. “Let’s start with Bailey and Mitzy,” Harry says, and we head out. Bailey and Mitzy are a mother and daughter duo. They are smallish, well-behaved, and engaging—an easy pair to walk.
Next up is Buddy, the large and affable black Airedale and Poodle mix. He’s an older soul. He’s also highly intelligent and obedient. And he’ll do anything for a treat.
After that, it’s Spot’s turn. He’s a bull terrier cross who is very happy, highly energetic, and eager to please. Finally, it’s Apollo’s turn. Harry advises me to take it slowly with him. As I enter his domain, Apollo cowers. He is wide-eyed and clearly uncertain about who has just entered his space. But after a few minutes, he allows me to leash him, and we walk together. I know that once Apollo’s trust is won, someone will be rewarded with a devoted companion.
Harry mentions that other Canadians are helping out as dog walkers. I meet Pat from Ottawa. She has spent seven years volunteering here. Her favorite dog is Tessie, a golden retriever mix. Then there’s Francois from Richmond Hill. He’s always dressed in black, resolutely walking his dogs. Afterward, he sits with each one and talks gently to the dog. Finally, I meet Teenie. She’s always willing to walk any dog regardless of size or shape or personality. I learn she is also from Toronto, living a mere three miles from my Beaches neighborhood—truly a small world, eh?
Volunteering at the SPA has been an emotional and thoroughly rewarding experience. I’m glad to have had a small role in the lives of these animals. It felt good to “give back” (as my father always reminded me) or “pay it forward” as millennials now say.
The SPA is a nonprofit NGO. It takes many caring individuals to keep the shelter operating successfully. Volunteers are crucial, as are donations. I hope you are inspired to get involved. Volunteer, donate, or simply visit the puppies and kittens and give them a cuddle. Volunteer hours at the SPA, Los Pinos 7, 415 152 6124, are Monday-Saturday, 11am-2pm. You’ll have fun. That I promise you!