Shelter dispatch: the longest day

My sophomore year in college, I was the first of my roommates to arrive at our new apartment. For some reason, I was there several days ahead of the others (20 years later, I don’t remember why). The unit was completely empty, foreign somehow – though I’d obviously seen it when I’d signed the lease the previous May.

My stuff – clothes, books, furniture – was being shipped from out of state and would arrive sometime between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. I was told that if I wasn’t there at the apartment to sign for it that day, everything would be shipped back.

I’d caught an early flight so I could be on the premises in plenty of time. My flight was late, however, and I didn’t get to my new home until just before 9:00. The apartment was totally bare, nothing but white shag carpet and beige walls, and it smelled funny. But I was relieved to have made it and figured my things would arrive shortly.

I finished off the snack items I’d brought from the plane, reread my magazine, and tried not to look at my watch. I didn’t walk into “town,” as we called the commercial area near campus – I didn’t want to risk missing the chance to sign for the shipment. This was before the days of cell phones, laptops, ipods. I stared out the living room window and monitored the parking structure. Not much to see, as school hadn’t yet started.

I’m sure I napped there on the carpet, but I don’t recall when or for how long. I do remember thinking at one point that my watch had stopped. Time seemed to have slowed to an unbearable pace. By early afternoon I was crying from boredom. I remember thinking how silly that was, and then being grateful for the chore of hunting around my backpack for kleenex.

Minutes before 5:00, my things arrived.

I think about that day as I make my way through the kennel runs here at the shelter. Companionship, exercise , mental stimulation of any kind are nearly non-existent. On a good day, a dog gets outside for a 15-minute walk or two. I imagine the remaining hours are spent longing for those short stretches of reprieve. One of the toughest parts of volunteering is trying to decide which animals need your time the most.

Two decades ago, I experienced 8 measly hours of unmitigated boredom and isolation. I knew there was an end in sight, I knew that the next day I could go to the park or meet a friend, that I’d have my radio to listen to and books to read. Still, the day was the longest of my life – all this time later I remember feeling frustrated, powerless, and lonely. And it was just 8 hours.

Not 8 days or 8 weeks or 8 months.

Tulip is available for adoption at the Santa Fe, NM, Humane Society

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