Photos by Katie Lamar
My lawyer explained to me that I was going to have to complete ten hours of community service. I had just been found innocent of a trespassing charge, when my friends were found guilty. He didn’t say when the hours had to be done; he just said to do them. I remember thinking, ‘Why did I need to do this even after I was found innocent?’. He told me that my friends had done something stupid while I was with them and now I was going pay for it. I felt a little stuck, and, to be honest, a little mad. My lawyer explained to me that he wanted me to do the hours to convince the judge and prosecutor that I was a good kid. I’ve never had to do a mandatory amount of community service hours before.
He didn’t assign me to a program or organization. He told me to do some hard research and find something that was meaningful to me, something that I would enjoy spending ten hours doing. I didn’t know where to start.
I’ve volunteered with my friends before. Once we we went to The Union Station and dressed as elves and helped little kids on and off of a train, but that was just for the fun of it. This time would be different – this was being forced upon me. At that point, I would never have thought anything good would have come from my court charge.
When I discovered the local organization I decided this would be the one worth my time. I’ve always loved animals and caring for them, so it seemed to fit my personality and morals. This looked like a place where I could get my hours done easily and fast– at least that was my initial plan. From the day I started at KC Pet Project, I’ve loved it – even now that I’ve completed my mandatory ten hours. The organization is the largest no-kill and no-turn-away pet shelter in the KCMO area. Their main shelter holds over 200 rescue dogs and cats, and their other, smaller shelter is in the Zona Rosa shopping center holding around 12 cats and dogs.
I decided I would attend the first few mandatory orientation classes at the main shelter, to see if it was actually worth it. After orientation, I realized this was something I was actually interested in pursuing. My focus had shifted from just getting the assigned hours completed to making a difference in the these dogs’ lives.
I don’t get intimidated by much, but this place scared me. And honestly, it still kind of does. It’s hard seeing so many dogs locked up in cages. But I’m bigger than that and this place was bigger than me so I decided I’d persevere and volunteer at the shelter. After going for the first time, I knew I couldn’t make an impact on all of their lives, but maybe, just maybe, I could at least help a few of them.
Worried I didn’t know enough or wasn’t ready to go on my own, I started my service anyways. For several weekends on Sundays, I spent a few hours at a time walking, working, feeding and spending time with the dogs. But these dogs are not the average, cute house-trained dogs. They are your abandoned, old, sad dogs that were either mistreated or left alone outside.
After I realized what I was doing was really great and that I appreciated going, I never felt like it was something I was being forced to do. I went with a positive attitude, and I actually really enjoyed going. No matter how much homework I had, or how busy I was, I would always make time to go spend time with these dogs.
When I work with these dogs, I’d go home feeling like I’ve accomplished something great. I feel a great sense of responsibility. After I finished the 10 hours, I felt complete. I was relieved to have a clean slate on my record, but a sense of loss because I’d be losing the sense of higher meaning in my life.
Why would I stop something I loved, something that gave my life a purpose? What good would stopping do? I still had all these extra hours that I wasn’t spending at the dog shelter. I was probably just going to fill them with meaningless things like sitting at home and doing nothing. The solution to this was simple: I had to continue to volunteer.
I fell in love with walking the dogs in general. The people at shelter got to know me, and I got to know them. They became my role models. They are people that are willing to devote their personal time to help the vulnerable animals. I’ve never done anything in my life that required so much independence that I actually followed through with.
So much good came from one stupid thing I did in my life.