For the past month, I have been volunteering at my local animal shelter as a member of the dog walking team. I have a rescue dog myself, so this is my way of giving back and giving thanks for the amazing gift Harper (my dog) is to me. I’m participating in something that’s bigger than me – something that makes a huge difference in these dogs’ lives, in my community, and, as it turns out, in my life as well. I had no idea how much being a volunteer at the shelter would change me.

The Hamilton County (Cincinnati, OH) Animal Shelter was recently taken over by an organization called Cincinnati Animal CARE. They believe that every animal deserves a chance at a live outcome, should be treated as an individual, and that lifesaving is a community ethic. Not what you’d expect from an animal shelter? Me neither. But the difference they’re making in the community – and especially for the animals in their care - is astonishing. And it works! They are a model for what all shelters can and should be. Their core values challenge the community to expect more from our county animal shelter. And they have challenged me to expect more of myself.

When I started volunteering at the shelter, my friends and family reacted with “How can you do that and not just cry?” or “How can you not just want to take every dog home with you?” The truth is, I can’t! I often cry when I leave the shelter. As I share this story with you, I cry! And of course, I would love to bring every dog home with me, but that’s not realistic, so I don’t. (It is my retirement goal, however, but that’s another story for another blog smiley) I knew it would be difficult, but I chose to do it anyway.

As Khalil Gibran said, “Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”  Which is exactly what we’re doing on the dog walking team. We’re not focusing on how sad it is that these dogs don’t have a forever home; we’re focusing on what we can do right now to help them in the situation that is, so they can make progress to be ready for what will be - their adoption day! And it’s exactly what volunteering in the shelter has inspired in me, in my work, and in my daily interactions and challenges.

Now, I’m focused on not sweating the small stuff, it’s all small stuff; and advancing toward what will be. Focusing on what I can do right now to inspire the desired results. Challenging myself to do more. Advancing every day toward what will be – eventual success! It’s positive. It’s life-changing. It’s progress.

I encourage you to volunteer. Participate in something bigger than yourself.

It will change your life.

Jessica Back

Marketing Communications Manager, Panini